HARTFORD, CT — Union members gathered outside the Senate chamber Monday and pushed up against the ropes as they tried for a last chance to plead their case to the three Democratic Senators holed up inside Senate President Martin Looney’s office.
On the line was a $1.57 billion concession package that locked in their health and pension benefits for at least the next 10 years.
Sens. Paul Doyle, Joan Hartley, and Gayle Slossberg were all undecided about how they would vote on the package and had asked Looney for more time to make a decision. The attention turned to the three Democrats as Republicans signaled that there were no votes for the package in their caucus.
The House approved the deal on a 78-72 vote last week with one Democrat voting against it and one Republican absent.
As of 1 p.m., none of them had indicated they would vote in favor of the package. Everyone else — including Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who may have to cast a vote to break a tie — has been kept in suspense.
The Senate is expected to vote today, even if the deal is rejected. There’s no deadline on passage of the deal, but without a definitive vote up or down lawmakers don’t know the size of the budget deficit they need to resolve. The union deal would erase $1.57 billion of the two-year, $5.1 billion deficit.
The three undecided Senators left Looney’s office to join their colleagues in voting for an amendment to the tribes’ compacts with the state to make room for a third casino. In order to get to the Senate chamber early Monday afternoon, the trio had to walk past a row of cameras and union members who asked how they planned to vote.
None of them were willing to say they had made up their mind.
“The so-called or self-proclaimed ‘moderate or conservative’ Democratic senators will determine whether future governors or lawmakers will have their hands bound when it comes to fixing our broken bureaucracy,’’ House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “They position themselves as moderate when it comes to these critical fiscal matters such as taxes and spending, and they have the best chance ever to do that when the vote comes up in the Senate.”
Over the weekend outside groups increased their efforts to sway public opinion against the deal.
The Yankee Institute and a national conservative policy organization waged campaigns against the deal.
Characterizing the union concession package as a “backroom deal,” an ad from the State Government Leadership Foundation says the deal will lead to higher taxes and bigger deficits.
“Everyone agrees that Connecticut deserves better,” the ad’s narrator states.
The Yankee Institute sent out press releases and held conference calls to explain the deal as they see it.
Two members of SEIU 1199, who work for the Department of Developmental Services, showed up at the Capitol after their shifts to show their support for the package.
The members, Irene Marquis and Diane Young, said they love their jobs and they want to continue to do them.
“We did our part, now it’s their turn,” Young said.
Marquis said she hasn’t had a raise in 11 years thanks to all the concessions.
“How many people would stick around at a job where they make less than they did a decade ago, and then be told they’re overpaid, and greedy?” Marquis 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. Last week, Malloy speculated the budget stalemate could last until September or October. The longest the state has been without a budget was in 2009 when it took until September to adopt a budget.
The labor deal would extend 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, which means Connecticut could have three more governors before changes are made.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the deal ties the hands of the legislature and future governors to make changes to the state’s relationship with its workers. He said they could get more savings by negotiating the wage contracts with the unions and then making changes to the health and pension portion of the agreement after 2022.