Well, state employee unions, it’s been a good run. You’ve managed to swerve and survive and protect your own, even through the disaster of 2011, but that’s ending now. I don’t envy you.

Here’s the grim situation: Connecticut’s economy is stagnant, wealth is actually flowing

Thankfully, the governor nixed the idea, but it shows how desperate Democrats in the legislature have become.

The state employee unions will not be so lucky.

Layoffs are looming. Pink slips could be hitting desks and mailboxes in the next few weeks, according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who seems to have no intention of changing course. Layoffs will happen. The only question now is how many will lose their jobs.

It’s possible that slashing benefits could help, but so far the unions have said they won’t do it.

Quite a few union members are outraged that the state would give them the boot or cut benefits before squeezing the rich for more taxes. The public safety unions, which include prison guards, rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday to protest the cuts. But Gov. Malloy has stated that he can’t find any lawmakers willing to support tax hikes, and that state government must shrink.

So what can the state employee unions do?

Their options are very limited right now. They could try to negotiate, but they’d be giving away one of the few things they can hold on to until 2022 — benefits and pensions — instead of losing them like they will almost certainly have to stomach losing jobs and members.

As for the layoffs themselves nobody is happy with the idea, but no one has a better solution either.

It’s easy to say that we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. It’s also wrong. If the problem was revenue, raising taxes should have done much more to fix it than it actually did. The trouble here is that our revenue problem is very stubborn, and no amount of tax hikes will fix it if we can’t turn our economy around. That leaves us with cutting spending.

The bad news is that this situation won’t be fixed without quite a lot of suffering on the part of state employees and the middle class to which most of them belong. The governor has already proposed a large number of layoffs, meaning there’s a strong likelihood of courts and DMV offices closing.

Unions could absolutely make the argument that cutting staff and throwing people out of work will actively hurt the state’s economy, and that is something that is guaranteed to happen. The immediate effects of someone being out of work are one thing, but there are ripple effects that spread throughout the economy as people can afford fewer goods and services.

It’s also true that government will function less well post-layoffs. Many agencies are understaffed already and it’s hard to imagine DCF or the DMV will function better with even fewer employees.

Why shouldn’t unions come to the table and offer up benefit cuts to save some of those jobs, then? Certainly the unions are feeling plenty of pressure to do just that. But in a country where labor is constantly under threat, and only five years after the unions already made huge concessions to prevent layoffs, that idea just seems impossible to stomach.

State employee unions, then, are in a bad place. Whatever they choose, it’ll be the wrong choice. Their members will be furious, the public will be just as dismissive as ever, the labor movement will be weakened, and their legislative support will erode even further.

In that situation, the least awful move may be to fight the cuts wholesale, even knowing they’ll fail. Maybe it’s better to go down fighting for what you believe in than the slow death of endless concessions and layoffs.

Whatever they decide, there remains one question no one wants to answer hovering over the whole thing: if this doesn’t fix our fiscal crisis, what do we do then?

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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