State Employee Unions Approve $700 Million In Concessions
May 09, 2009
State employees have voted to approve wage givebacks and other concessions expected to save about $700 million in labor-related costs between now and mid-2011, union leaders said Friday.
With the state facing a budget deficit projected at more than $8 billion, leaders of the 13 state unions voted unanimously to approve the concessions negotiated with Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration on pension and health benefits affecting all 50,000 state employees.
Separate votes were required by rank-and-file workers — not just the 13 unions' leaders — on issues other than pension and health benefits, such as wages and job security.
Thirty-one separate bargaining units within those 13 unions — representing different categories of employees, such as state police, transportation workers and others — were asked to approve negotiated agreements calling for a one-year wage freeze, seven unpaid furlough days over two years, and a two-year, no-layoff provision for most employees extending to June 30, 2011.
Twenty-nine of the 31 units voted approval.
That leaves two bargaining units — involving about 5,800 employees of the Department of Correction — still to settle with the state.
Among the 34,883 rank-and-file union members who voted, 26,408 approved the concessions, an approval ratio of about 3-to-1, officials for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition — known as SEBAC — said at a press conference Friday in Hartford.
The concession agreements still need to be approved by the General Assembly, but leaders there have indicated their support, and union leaders predicted legislative approval as early as next week.
State House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D- Meriden, said Friday that the employees' agreement to the concessions "makes a valuable contribution to reducing the state's budget deficit while protecting services the public sorely needs and expects in these troubled times."
Rell, for her part, welcomed the SEBAC announcement, saying: "Our negotiations were conducted in a spirit of cooperation and respect and we have achieved a tremendously productive result. I thank everyone involved."
In general, even those state employees who see their jobs eliminated by Rell-administration moves to cut the bureaucracy will still be protected from layoffs under the agreements. They typically would be placed elsewhere in state government, in vacancies left by the thousands who are expected to take advantage of the retirement incentive program that is part of the pension-and-benefit agreement, the union officials said.
One strong incentive for retirement — in addition to three extra years added to an employee's career total for pension-calculation purposes — is that employees who take the retirement-incentive program would not be affected by newly negotiated increased costs for prescription drugs and co-payments under retirees' health insurance. Those would only affect future retirees.
Employees who opt to take the retirement incentives will leave June 1 or July 1, officials said.
The two state Department of Correction bargaining units, which did not approve their concession package on non-pension and benefit issues such as wages, represent correction officers and prison supervisors. The 5,800 employees amount to about 10 percent of the state workforce.
If they do not reach agreement with the Department of Correction — which union leaders criticized as a "rogue agency" whose leaders do not recognize what needs to be done to address the state's financial predicament — they could be subject to layoffs in the event of cost-cutting measures by the Rell administration.
But even if the two correction units do not settle on individual contracts with the state, their members still fall under the pension and benefits concessions that were voted on separately by the 13 leaders of the unions in SEBAC; those changes affect all 50,000 state employees, the union officials said.
At Friday's press conference, union leaders one after the other said that state employees had "stepped up to the plate" to preserve public services, which are needed badly during tough economic times, and "to protect the people of this state," as Daniel Livingston, SEBAC's chief attorney, put it.
But, Livingston and union officials said, state employees can't be expected to solve the budget crisis by themselves — adding that the state needs to increase its revenue by increasing taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
Several rank-and-file state employees spoke at the press conference — and one of them, Stephen Anderson, an air pollution engineer for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the concessions would cost him about $12,000 over the rest of the time that he works for the state.
Some of the estimated $700 million in savings would come before July 1, but most of it — about $637 million — would occur during the two fiscal years after July 1.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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