Christine Stuart file photo
Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple (Christine Stuart file photo)

The head of one of Connecticut’s largest state agencies is preparing his workforce for the inevitable: layoffs.

“It is with great unease that I confirm, despite ongoing cost saving efforts, the need for employee layoffs is imminent,” Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple wrote in a March 7 memo to his staff. “Unfortunately, we cannot rely on an anticipated attrition rate to control the budget gap.”

Rudy Demiraj, president of AFSCME Local 387 representing 1,000 members, said Semple informed the unions on Monday that layoffs were imminent.

“It’s a reality right now that we’re looking at,” Demiraj said.

He said it’s his understanding that in the Correction Department alone they are looking at about 600 layoffs.

“Everybody is in the crosshairs,” Demiraj said.

Laying off possibly thousands of employees wasn’t part of the dialogue at the Capitol until Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled his budget, which cut spending 5.75 percent and called for “the reduction of the state workforce by more than a thousand employees.”

“The decision to reduce staff through layoffs is far and away the most difficult thing I have had to do as a Commissioner,” Semple wrote. “Unfortunately, the current economic climate of the state is one of the most challenging that we have ever faced.”

AFSCME Council 4 represents about 5,000 employees in the Correction Department.

“We’re disappointed because we believe there are better choices,” Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said in reference to the legislature’s ability to increase taxes to solve its budget problems.

The state is facing an estimated $1.2 billion deficit over the next 16 months, but budget analysts expect that number to increase after the April 15 tax deadline when the state collects about 40 percent of its revenue.

Malloy said Thursday that in order to have an effect on the more than $200 million deficit this year, layoffs will need to take place before June 9.

“We’re not going to raise taxes. We have to make adjustments and there are going to be layoffs and we need to effect those to the greatest extent possible effective,” Malloy said Thursday in New Haven.

However, there are currently no discussions with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition over a health and pension package that doesn’t expire until 2022.

Malloy is currently in negotiations with 30 bargaining units over wages and working conditions.

The governor hasn’t said yet exactly how many state workers will receive pink slips, but the number is expected to be in the thousands.

The labor unions who agreed to $1.6 billion in concessions in 2011 feel they’ve done enough to help the state solve its fiscal mess.

The deal the union ratified five years ago offered no wage increases for two years, followed by three years of 3 percent increases; no furlough days; it shaved cost-of-living increases for pensions; it raised the retirement age by three years for those retiring after 2022; and instituted a new $35 co-pay on emergency room visits.

In order to get the unions to approve that deal, Malloy issued layoff notices to about 6,500 employees. The changes to the concession package were approved before the layoffs actually occurred.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he feels bad for the state employees who will soon be unemployed “because the governor and the Democratic-majority in the General Assembly refused to make structural changes.”

Fasano suggested that state employees, when given a choice to pay $5 extra for a prescription or contribute 2 percent more toward their pension, would absolutely agree to that over unemployment.

“We could save these jobs,” Fasano said. “But the powerless are being sacrificed for the powerful.”

He said if Democratic lawmakers really care about state workers and preserving the middle class they will protect them by encouraging them to make the necessary changes.