HARTFORD, CT — It’s a full court press and the targets are three Democratic Senators.
Sens. Paul Doyle, Joan Hartley, and Gayle Slossberg last week asked for more time to determine the merits of the labor concession package that was approved 78-72 by the House.
The Senate has scheduled a session Monday, July 31, to vote on the agreement.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, none of the three Senators had made a decision about how they planned to vote.
Hunkered down in Slossberg’s fourth floor office with a bowl of chocolate candy in the middle of the table, the three poured through documents and data trying to make sense of the deal.
A spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus said they are being given all the resources they need to make a decision.
“It’s no surprise that we are deep into understanding it,” Hartley said Wednesday. “Doing our due diligence is not a short order.”
She said they appreciate all the outside input, “but the only thing driving me are the numbers and the facts.”
There is no deadline for the Senate to act on the agreement, but the clock is ticking and it’s assumed no Republican Senators will be voting for the labor agreement. The Senate is tied 18-18, which means all Democratic Senators would need to vote in favor of the deal and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who presides over the chamber, would need to break the tie.
“We are doing our homework,” Slossberg said Wednesday.
Doyle said the trio are working as hard as they can.
The three are being lobbied hard by their colleagues, unions, and other outside groups, but say they’re not fazed by the attention.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano said the three moderate Democrats are receiving an “unfair amount of pressure,” to vote for the labor agreement.
“I think they should be left alone to decide, not politically, but economically whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal for the state,” Fasano said.
The five-year deal includes job protection for four years for bargaining groups that agreed to accept a three-year wage freeze, three furlough days, and a 3.5 percent pay increase in the final two years. In addition the deal increases employee contributions to their health and pension benefits and it extends that portion of the deal another five years until 2027.
Approval of the deal is also crucial to getting a two-year state budget agreement. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been operating the state by executive order since July 1. On Wednesday, he speculated the budget stalemate could last until September or October. The longest the state has been without a budget was in 2009 when one was adopted in September.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Monday that the agreement is the first step in getting a two-year budget agreement because it solves $1.57 billion of the $5.1 billion deficit.
Malloy warned Senators earlier this week that with each passing day the savings from the labor agreement dissipate.
“I urge the Senate to adopt this agreement in concurrence with the House so that it can go into effect and these savings can develop as soon as possible,” Malloy said.
However, it’s not necessarily the immediate savings that the Senators are examining.
The labor deal extends the health and pension benefits to 2027 essentially tying the hands of future legislatures and governors to make changes to that part of the agreement. All the wage agreements would expire in five years, but the larger savings are in the changes to the health and pension portion of the agreement.
“Under the terms of this agreement, government union workers are only hitting the pause button on their rising wages and locking their costly retirement benefits into state law for the next 10 years,” Carol Platt Liebau, executive director of the Yankee Institute, warned in an email. “And under the terms of the deal, state legislators specifically give up any power to alter or amend the contracts — no matter the circumstances.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the state can’t reorganize itself.
During the House debate on Monday, Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, explained that the layoff protection doesn’t extend to employees hired after July 1 or the state police because their wage contracts don’t expire for another few years. A recently unionized group representing approximately 170 assistant attorneys general are still in active negotiations for a first contract, so their wage structure has not yet been finalized.
The deal would also allow the state to reorganize agencies and departments as it sees fit. Employees who decline an offer of retraining also give up their job security.
Even with the job security offered in 2011, there’s been a 15 percent reduction in the bargaining unit state employees over the last 10 years from 52,193 to 44,130.
State workers, who have given back in 2009, 2011 and 2017, argue they’ve given enough.
The average sacrifice for state workers, according to the union coalition, is $17,500 per worker.
“While State Employees are not the cause of the revenue shortfall driving Connecticut’s budget deficit, we have agreed to step up and help solve it,” a message asking lawmakers to support the agreement reads. “We felt it was a necessary sacrifice to protect the important services that we’ve dedicated our lives to and we have once again demonstrated the value of collective bargaining to solve complex problems in a fair way.”