Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides testifies last week about the Republican budget proposal (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — In case there was any confusion, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides wrote lawmakers to make sure they understood that she wants to change the state’s relationship with labor. The changes she’s seeking would, for all intent and purpose, circumvent collective bargaining as it’s conducted today for state employees.

“Under current law, the legislature cannot make wholesale changes to existing union contracts,” Klarides wrote. “The House Republicans are proposing to reform collective bargaining so that the legislature can implement workplace policies that are more closely aligned with the private sector.”

Specifically, Klarides says Republicans want to eliminate contract negotiations and instead empower the legislature to vote on changes to state employee wages and benefits.

The legislature would have to wait until 2022 for the expiration of the current pension and health benefits before setting new conditions.

And in order to achieve that goal and the savings set forth in the House Republican budget proposal, the General Assembly would have to reject the pending labor agreement.

Rank-and-file union members finish voting today on the deal negotiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has said it’s his intention to bring the package before the General Assembly for a vote, even though one isn’t needed.

“That’s my intention and always has been,” Aresimowicz said last week.

He said he wants an “up or down vote” on the SEBAC agreement. He could allow the deal to sit on the clerk’s desk for 30 days after the start of the 2018 session in February and it would automatically go into effect.

It’s an option he may have to consider as support among lawmakers wanes. It’s unclear, even if the labor savings were adopted as part of the budget, whether a majority of lawmakers would ratify the agreement.

Republican lawmakers are doing what they can to turn public opinion against the deal that offers four years of job protection and 3.5 percent salary increases in the last two years of the five year deal.

In an editorial in The Hour, Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said “The biggest gulf in how Rs and Ds seek to resolve our budget impasse stems from state employee salaries/benefits.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

But labor leaders warned that rejecting the agreement and the idea of collective bargaining, as proposed by the Republicans, would be costly for the state.

“We need to stop having budget presentations that are smoke and mirrors,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said.

In 2003, former Gov. John G. Rowland tried to do things outside of the collective bargaining and it ended up costing the state, she said.

“This is out and out going after workers, saying you don’t deserve a voice on the job,” Pelletier said of the House Republican budget proposal. “These workers know the best way to save money. Listen to them.”

Today, following a settlement with the labor unions, Connecticut is paying for Rowland’s decision to lay off thousands of state employees.

In May 2013, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, concluded that Rowland violated the union members’ civil rights and directed the district court to begin calculating damages.

The Attorney General’s office, which is helping to distribute the damages to state employees who were laid off as a result of Rowland’s decision, said 2,400 class members are entitled to economic damages as a result of the firings.

The individuals fall into two categories. Those who were separated from state service for less than one year, and those who were separated for a longer period of time.

More than 675 awards totaling around $4.97 million have been made to state employees separated for less than a year. Vacation hours have been awarded in lieu of monetary payments to those who are still state employees. The state was able to save an estimated $17.7 million this year by allowing vacation days to be used instead of cash awards.

Additionally, 204 awards totaling $7 million have been made for those separated for longer than a year or who never returned to state service.

As of June, the state had awarded $11.96 million to state employees impacted by those 2003 layoffs. Any further awards will be made as part of the 2018 budget, which lawmakers have yet agree upon.