Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s labor negotiator reached out to the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition last week and asked to open the 2011 contract for health and pension benefits.
However, Daniel Livingston, SEBAC’s chief negotiator, told the administration that SEBAC won’t have the “authority to enter discussions” until the organization’s executive board votes to reopen the contract, which doesn’t expire until 2022.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said the governor has been clear since his February 3 speech that “reasonable changes to state employee benefits must be on the table.”
That being said, Puglia said the administration is “disappointed that SEBAC has chosen to discuss these critical issues via press release. But we’re more alarmed, if not completely stunned, at the ludicrous rationale given as to why long-term benefits cannot or should not be part of the discussion.”
The unions say the announcement wasn’t a press release, but a notification emailed to their members and posted on their websites.
Lisa Grasso Egan, who heads the Office of Labor Relations, said the state and the unions have been at the table for several months and during that time the state has continued to face increasing fiscal strain.
“The magnitude of our short- and long-term challenges demands that we discuss areas of pension and health benefits, which fall under the auspices of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition,” Egan wrote in a formal request to open negotiations.
All but one state union is currently negotiating wage and working conditions with the administration.
“We do not have the authority to enter into the discussions you suggest without the specific direction of our elected rank-and-file leadership,” Livingston wrote in his March 17 response. “We would be happy to have a meeting with you and/or other appropriate representatives of the administration about your view of the state’s fiscal situation and we will share our perspective as well.”
The two sides seem to be at an impasse.
“SEBAC should come to the table and talk about benefits,” Puglia said. “They need to adjust to Connecticut’s new economic reality. It’s that simple.”
Meanwhile, Malloy has promised state employee layoffs in order to balance the budget, which is experiencing a $220 million deficit this year, and a $900 million deficit in the next fiscal year.
“It’s time to stop using state employees as a punching bag and start pushing for a revenue system that asks our wealthiest and most successful individuals to pay their fair share,” CSEA/SEIU, Local 2001, said in an email to its members Sunday.
Similar messages, were shared with members of other unions like AFSCME Council 4 and AFT CT.
The email from CSEA/SEIU, Local 2001 said even though leadership is not authorized to reopen the 2011 agreement, “we hope the administration will agree to meet so we can discuss concrete and substantive ways to fix the budget deficit. The 2011 agreement already provides some of those ways.”
In a previous statement, Livingston said if the 2011 agreement were fully implemented by the administration then the state could find more savings.
Livingston said the administration could find additional savings if, it implemented a voluntary smoking cessation program, improved behavioral health services, and eliminated “hundreds of millions in wasted dollars that go for costly and inefficient for-profit contracting.”