About the only thing that state employee union leaders could say with any certainty Friday was that the vote to reject the governor’s concession package seeking $1.6 billion in givebacks from the state’s more than 45,000 workers would stand –probably.
Just about all other aspects of where things might proceed next remained up in the air, though, as those same leaders said they were still hopeful that they could “scramble together a solution” before as many as 7,500 state employee positions were eliminated in the coming weeks.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $40.1 billion biennium budget for the coming two fiscal years, which officially began Friday, relied on $1.6 billion in givebacks from unionized state employees already under contract. The majority of state workers approved the agreement through a complex voting process, but union rules required 80 percent of all state workers and at least 14 of the state’s 15 unions to ratify the agreement, and when that did not materialize, Malloy then conveyed a special session of the General Assembly to close the gap through employee layoffs and further cuts to the budget.
that closes the gap through the elimination of as many as 7,500 state employees, but Malloy said in a statement soon after its adoption that there was still time for state employees to ratify the concession package and stave off those layoffs.
“I’ve been asked many times over the past few days about rumors regarding SEBAC and what they might or might not do, so let me be clear. If they choose to ratify the agreement that was recently turned down, and if they do so in a timely fashion, much of the pain that’s been inflicted over the past few days can be reversed,” Malloy said. “If they end up not ratifying the agreement, then the budget we now have in place is the one we’ll live with for the next two years.”
But union leaders rejected a motion Friday that would have allowed the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the bulk of the state’s unionized employees, to amend its bylaws to lower the voting threshold to ratify the concession agreement, and also passed a resolution that blocks it from retroactively amending those same bylaws, effectively quashing any way to ratify Malloy’s concession agreement under the vote already taken, although SEBAC leaders continue to delay the vote to formally ratify the rejection of the concession agreement.
“We wanted to honor the votes that were taken and respect the Democratic process,” said SEBAC Spokesman Matt O’Connor late Friday afternoon.
O’Connor said that, although the chances of adopting the governor’s concession package as is seemed all but defeated, he was confident that union leadership would work out some sort of a new agreement or compromise to prevent wide scale layoffs.
“Although we’re confident that we’ll have a path forward, we don’t know what that path will look like right now,” said O’Connor. “We know what it is not going to be, however. It is not going to be a simple acceptance of the concession agreement by way of changes to the bylaws.”
O’Connor said that aside from employees at the Bergin Prison in Mansfield, which is slated to be closed as a result of the recently adopted budget, he was not aware of any other employees who had received “pink slips” on Friday, and noted that the state’s various collective bargaining agreements require that most employees be given two to four weeks notice before termination. He said that would buy the unions some time as they tried to cobble together an acceptable solution, but conceded that time was indeed running short.
“Time is definitely not on our side to say the least,” O’Connor said.
House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, who has been a strong union supporter through the years, said Friday afternoon that he had spoken to the president of one of the state’s employee unions who told him that union leadership is committed to brokering a new deal or reaching some other solution to avoid layoffs.
O’Connor said much the same thing late Friday afternoon – just that he did not know what form such a solution would take.
“I’m confident we’ll get a solution and we have to get a solution,” he said. “We can’t see 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 workers on the unemployment line without doing all we can to avoid that.”
O’Connor said that he expected union leaders would announce their next step sometime Tuesday.