Christine Stuart photo

On the eve of the Labor Day weekend, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reminded labor leaders from across the state why they should support him in November.

At a union hall in East Hartford on Friday, Malloy acknowledged that it wasn’t easy to ask state employees for concessions back in 2011, but the state was “in a pickle.”

The Malloy administration faced a $3.67 billion budget deficit. In order to close the gap, he asked the state employee unions, who had worked hard to get him elected, for $1.6 billion in concessions. That year, Malloy also increased taxes $1.5 billion to help close the budget hole.

The state “had been driven into a ditch,” Malloy said Friday as he rolled up his sleeves to address the labor leaders. “Its obligations had been underfunded. State workers and all organized labor was under assault. Something had to be done.”

He said his job was to figure out how to “protect people” and “get our house in order.”

Labor leaders felt Malloy could have handled the 2011 negotiations better, but they didn’t feel they would have gotten a better deal if Republican Tom Foley had been elected.

AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Lori Pelletier described labor’s relationship with Malloy as “solid.”

She said all you have to do is look at who the Republican Party and Malloy’s Republican opponent have brought into the state: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“You can call it guilt by association,” Pelletier said.

As far as Malloy’s relationship with Connecticut’s labor movement is concerned, Pelletier said over the past few years it’s grown.

“A relationship is like a stone wall so you keep putting rocks on the stone wall and it builds up,” Pelletier said. “Listen, labor was the difference four years ago and we’ve proved to be good allies over the course of four years and he’s proved to be a good ally by respecting us.”

She said the number of people they contacted in 2010 and got to the polls made a difference when Malloy won the election against Foley by 6,404 votes.

AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters, who introduced Malloy on Friday, said she wants a governor “who respects workers rights” and “has an open door policy.”

Peters said the union drafted a six-page document outlining the Malloy administration’s accomplishments, including two controversial executive orders that allowed 10,000 personal care attendants and family child care providers to organize and collectively bargain.

“I want a governor who returns calls no matter who calls,” Peters said.

Malloy said he was trying to live up to all the accolades Peters showered upon him in her introduction.

“I want a state where workers are respected,” Malloy said. “I want a state where people are making a good and decent living.”

Reflecting on his first debate earlier this week with Foley, Malloy said his opponent “promises to do something, but he doesn’t really promise what it is. And he says he has a way to get there, but he doesn’t explain it.”

Reached by telephone after Malloy’s speech on Friday, Foley said he wouldn’t change the relationship the state has with its state employees and he wouldn’t look to change the way collective bargaining works in Connecticut.

Foley made similar remarks in June when he addressed the AFL-CIO’s convention in New Haven.

In order to balance the budget, Foley told the group he would hold state spending flat for the next two years.

“I can do this without layoffs and without undoing the agreements public employees now have with the state of Connecticut. The governor and the state must keep their word. A deal is a deal. You can tell everybody you know I made that commitment,” he said.

On Friday, Foley said that it’s obvious Malloy would try and paint him as a person who is not going to be fair to state employees. He said his 35 years in business taught him it’s necessary to be fair to workers and give them the benefits they want and deserve.

“State government does a lot of things and those things mostly get done through people,” Foley said.

He said if he wants to be the “best governor the state has ever had,” then he’s going to have to be respectful and fair to the workforce. He said state workers would actually “feel more secure” under his administration.

As far as his relationship with labor, Malloy admitted Friday that “there are crises that pull at fabrics, but don’t tear them apart.”

He said he thinks labor recognizes the tough work they had to do during his first year in office.

“I then went out and kept my promises because it was good for the people who work for us and it was good for the people who we serve,” Malloy said.