HARTFORD, CT — A day after a deal was struck between the governor and labor leaders that would save Connecticut $1.5 billion over the next two fiscal years, state workers were at the capitol Wednesday to show support for it.
“Every time we’ve been asked to step up to the plate, we have,” AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano said. “We’ve not only made concessions, but we’ve given back, also.”
Rank-and-file union members still have to ratify the deal and while the threshold for approval is lower than it was in 2011, it’s still not a slam dunk.
In order to finalize an agreement two-thirds of all voting unions need to approve the contract and no more than one-third can oppose it. Without a deal, the state would have to lay off 4,200 employees to get the necessary savings in 2018.
The sting of having the first vote in 2011 fail, even though 57 percent of the membership voted in favor of it, is still fresh. That year the unions revised their bylaws and put the same contract out for a vote. It was approved on the second vote.
Many union members feel like they’ve already given back enough over the past six years. On the other hand, many members of the public complain about how rich state employee health and pension benefits are in comparison to the private sector.
The deal negotiated this week between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s negotiators, if ratified by union membership, would rescind the 113 layoff notices that started going out in April.
The plan freezes wages for the next three years and allows for a 3.5 percent increase in pay in 2020 and 2021. It also requires employees to take three furlough days.
The tentative deal also increases pension contributions by workers and creates a hybrid 401k/defined benefit plan for new employees. It also asks active employees to pay more in health insurance premiums and co-pays and moves retirees, who are unable to vote on the contract, from traditional Medicare to Medicare Advantage plans.
The contract would be extended by another five years to 2027.
The five-year deal would also provide four years of layoff protection and extend healthcare benefits for five years — this was a change from original draft of the deal released earlier this week, which said the agreement would avoid “the need for mass layoffs” without offering blanket layoff protection.
“It was a trade off,” Luciano continued. “We gave back for a guarantee of no layoffs.”
Luciano added, though, that “state and municipal employees are fatigued” by continually being targeted for cost reductions every time the state faces a multi-billion dollar budget hole.
The unions began trying to win support for the deal Tuesday through various posts on their websites and through Facebook.
“Our current economic reality requires that we revisit and redefine the state’s relationship with employees and I want to thank the leaders of our state employee unions,” Malloy wrote in a statement about the deal on Tuesday.
He said the framework “will surely create more affordable and more sustainable labor costs in a way that generates structural, long-term savings of over $20 billion over the course of the next two decades.”
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s waiting for an actuarial analysis of the deal before he opines on it. Malloy has promised an actuarial analysis of the deal within the next 10 days.
Union workers on Wednesday, many of whom gathered in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building, said that while they likely will support the deal they also want to see others step up to the plate and pay “their fair share.”
“Now is the time for legislators to ask the same of the state’s most wealthy and billion dollar corporations,” SEBAC said in a statement.
“Those who are benefitting the most should be paying the most,” he said.
However, the last income tax increase implemented in 2015 failed to bring in additional revenue to the state. Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, recently said 2015’s half-percent income tax increase on people making over $500,000 a year didn’t net Connecticut “one dime.” That increase went into effect in 2016.
“Working people pay twice as much as millionaires,” Luciano said.
While that might be true, even some Democratic lawmakers have sensed that those wealthy individuals have enough money to hire professionals to find ways around paying more in taxes.
But income tax increases weren’t the only revenue idea Luciano said the state should consider.
Luciano said the state could recapture more revenue by eliminating certain tax exemptions and taxing more services.
Jay Bartolomei, president of AFSCME Local 714, agreed with Luciano that the state needs to target the state’s wealthiest.
Bartolomei said he didn’t believe those who believe taxing the rich more would drive the wealthiest out of the state, making Connecticut’s dire financial situation worse — and putting more pressure on the middle class.
“The evidence doesn’t bear that out,” Bartolomei said, adding that those who believe that “are just perpetuating the myth.”
Bartolomei said he liked the tentative union deal because “it stabilizes pensions and health care.”
Other union workers felt the state could be doing a better job of limiting the number of managers.
“The state is management heavy,” David Dumaine, who works in the Department of Social Services (DSS), said. “I’ll bet we have 10 workers per manager in the state. In some states that number is 20 or 30 workers per manager.”
Dumaine added that he thinks the state could save “lot of money” if it got serious about consolidating programs that duplicate functions.
Also supporting the deal was DSS worker Glenn Guerrera.
“I like what I hear and have trust in SEBAC,” Guerra said, though he added he is concerned that the Torrington office, where he works, is on the governor’s list of proposed offices to close.
“Frankly I’m more concerned about that than I am about our contract,” Guerra said. “Not for me, but for those who we provide services for. People will have to commute to Waterbury or Hartford and that’s not an easy ride.”
Department of Social Services Worker Denise Stevenson said she, too, supported the contract.
“If we keep our jobs it’s a good deal,” Stevenson said.