HARTFORD, CT — Senate Republicans said extending the labor deal another five years is not worth the nearly $200 million it will save the state. Instead, they called upon Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders to join them in making some of the changes to health and pension benefits statutorily.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano said Wednesday that he doesn’t doubt the $1.5 billion in concessions from state employees over the next two years, but he questioned the extension of the deal from 2022 to 2027 and whether that’s a benefit to the state.
He said the legislature can make some of these changes without the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which is the group that negotiates with the governor over pension and healthcare benefits. Salaries are negotiated by individual collective bargaining groups.
The Republican proposal would replace overtime with comp time, eliminate two state holidays, increase the course load of UConn professors, prohibit any meal or clothing allowances, and eliminate all executive assistant positions.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was quick to remind reporters that the deal he was able to negotiate with state employees, which still needs to be ratified by rank-and-file union members, was the best deal they were going to get.
“Who is the character in Peanuts who keeps moving the football?” Malloy joked.
Reporters replied “Lucy,” and Malloy said he was doing his best Charlie Brown impression.
“I told all legislative leaders weeks ago that it was not possible to reach an agreement in excess of the numbers,” Malloy said.
The five-year deal Malloy struck would save the state about $708 million in the first year and $849 million in the second year.
Republicans continue to say they would be able to get more through their proposal. They estimate their proposal would save $922.8 million in the first year and $1.16 billion in the second year.
Malloy said that’s unrealistic. He said if the state adopted the Republican proposal to replace overtime with comp time, they would have to hire “tens of thousands of additional state employees.”
“This is not thought out, folks,” Malloy said.
The motivation and the momentum Republicans believe they have to propose these changes is the prospect of losing Aetna to New York City and the reality that General Electric has already relocated its headquarters. Fasano said businesses understand the burden Connecticut is facing in paying off its long-term debt and unfunded pension obligations.
“We’re at a different point,” Fasano said. “The leverage is that we’re going in a wrong direction.”
Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said to use Aetna’s possible move to New York City as a reason to endorse taking away some collective bargaining rights is “preposterous.”
“Aetna is looking to move to a city with higher taxes on millionaires, a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and free college tuition for its residents. If that’s what Fasano wants Connecticut to look like, we may be able to work with him.”
Fasano also pointed to the downgrades the state has seen recently from Wall Street credit rating agencies. He said those downgrades are “an exclamation point that we have to do something different.”
Fasano said everybody is watching Connecticut and how it handles its finances.
Malloy said if the legislature — which also will be asked to vote on the labor agreement — turns down the tentative agreement with labor, then Republicans aren’t going to have his help to legislatively address the problem.
Malloy said he would veto any attempt to legislate benefits for state employees.
Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said the unions have arrived at a tentative framework and Fasano and his caucus “are recycling ideas that would balance the budget on the backs of working people and silence public employees’ voices on the job. These aren’t solutions.”
He said the same failed austerity measures have damaged the economy in states like Wisconsin and Kansas.
“Middle class workers have come together to potentially save the state over $1.5 billion and Republicans continue their attacks on those workers, seeking to strip their very right to collectively bargain,” Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for SEIU 1199 New England, said. “Middle class workers could potentially save the state over $1.5 billion dollars the next two years alone through the SEBAC framework, and Republicans have yet to ask one penny from billion dollar corporations or our state’s most wealthy.”
Voting on the labor savings will happen over a period of weeks and may not end until July. However, lawmakers and Malloy have included the savings in their various budget proposals. Legislative leaders are expected to meet again later today to discuss the $5.1 billion budget deficit for the next two years.