(Updated 5:15 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday urged the General Assembly to reject a labor contract for 1,900 non-teaching staff at the University of Connecticut.
The legislature has until March 9 to vote on the contract before it automatically goes into effect.
Malloy, who was still on vacation in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, released a statement repeating remarks he made last week about the state’s fiscal situation. Except this time he took it a step further and urged rejection of the five-year contract, which includes a wage hike and an increase in hours. Malloy, who hesitated last week to offer a firm opinion on the issue, said the contract negotiated last year between the university of the union does not reflect “our new economic reality.”
“At a time when the state is realigning spending and services, rescinding raises for nearly 2,000 managers, and significantly reducing its workforce, I believe this is a contract Connecticut cannot afford,” Malloy said. “It would set a precedent that would necessitate the elimination of even more jobs. I urge the General Assembly to reject this contract, and respectfully ask that UConn and UCPEA return to the bargaining table.”
Attached to Malloy’s statement was a memo from the governor’s budget director, Ben Barnes. The March 2 memo details how much the contract will cost the state.
The University of Connecticut estimated it would cost $55.9 million over five years, but Barnes and the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged the cost at $93.9 million over that same period of time, a difference of nearly $40 million.
That was enough for Senate legislative leadership to join Malloy in his call to reject the contract.
As a result of that discrepancy, “we believe that the contract is not sustainable at this time especially in light of the projected revenue decline announced last week following the vote in the Appropriations Committee,” Senate President Martin Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, said. “We are afraid that, if approved, the contract will lead to massive layoffs and painful tuition increases forcing talented Connecticut students out of state.”
House Democratic lawmakers caucused the issue last week, but there was no clear consensus among the members who attended.
“We all understand the state’s current fiscal reality, and the governor is now echoing the same concerns I’ve expressed, and have also heard from many legislators,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, said. “Unfortunately, UConn seems to have negotiated this contract without considering the state’s overall budget challenges, and the only way to pay for it is through more taxpayer dollars, tuition hikes, or layoffs, which are not good solutions. I appreciate the governor’s input, and only wish he had sounded the alarm with UConn administrators before this contract was agreed to.”
However, Sharkey said the issue is still under discussion in his caucus.
On Monday, Republican legislative leadership in both the House and the Senate urged the Democratic majority to raise the issue for a vote and reject the contract.
But Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said she doesn’t understand why lawmakers would reject a contract that was negotiated in good faith between the union and the university that won’t impact the state’s bottom line.
“An important piece missing from this conversation is that this contract will not affect the state budget,” Pelletier said. “The block grant that UConn gets from the state does not change as a result of approving this contract and management at the university has acknowledged this reality. This begs the question as to why the legislature would even consider voting down a contract negotiated in good faith that does nothing to change the state budget nor the amount of money UConn will receive.”
Kathleen Sanner, president of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association, said “to suggest that this contract will increase costs to taxpayers is simply wrong.”
The University of Connecticut testified a week ago that it didn’t know how it was going to close its $38 million budget gap, but it won’t be from tuition increases. The university recently adopted a plan to increase tuition 31 percent over four years.
In his memo to the governor, Barnes said the most significant difference between the university’s cost estimate and the one done by his office is related to the expansion of hours. The contract would increase the work week from 35 hours to 40 hours per week.
The compensation for the increased hours means members would receive 4 annual pay increases of 2.5 percent starting in fiscal year 2018, Barnes said. UConn argued that the increased hours should not be considered raises or wage increases because they would produce productivity gains and a 5 percent reduction in the workforce through layoffs over the course of the agreement, Barnes explained.
In addition, Barnes said UConn also did not calculate the impact the contract would have on the State Employees Retirement System.
Meanwhile, Barnes and Malloy called into question a provision in the contract that would allow employees to reduce their schedule and workload and pay for up to three years before retirement and still retain full pension and health benefits.
Barnes said the impact of that provision won’t be as expensive as the changes to the wage and work schedule, but “it does present some apparent conflicts with existing state statutes that reserve bargaining for retirement provisions for coalition bargaining.”
Dan Livingston, the chief labor negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Association Coalition, said that he understands the administration is raising a “technical question about a lone provision,” of the contract. However, it’s not a reason to ask the General Assembly to overturn the collective bargaining process.
“If the governor is concerned about this provision, the right remedy is not to vote the contract down in the General Assembly, but to file a charge with the State Labor Board, in which case the provision could be separately reviewed without jeopardizing the rest of the collective bargaining agreement,” Livingston has said.
AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel has said the governor’s wrong about that provision.
“Our members’ new agreement with UConn incorporates a provision in state statute for 22 years that encourages voluntary schedule reductions in order to increase workforce flexibility,” Hochadel said. “If they won’t negatively impact vital services or the employees that deliver them, we’ve always said these reductions ought to be pursued — especially if they’ll help with long-term savings.”
Hochadel added that Malloy and lawmakers are wrong about this contract.
She said it asks members to work longer hours and creates greater efficiency.
“Despite the governor’s claim, this is not a ‘new economic reality;’ middle class families like our members’ have been feeling the squeeze for years. It’s long past time for the top one percent to step up and do their part to help protect and preserve Connecticut’s quality of life,” Hochadel said.