Connecticut Union Members Vote Down a $1.6 Billion Concessions Plan
By Gregory B. Hladky
June 30, 2011
It's been interesting, in a sort of train-wreck-aftermath sort of way, to watch the two PR guys for Connecticut state employee unions trying to find some explanation for the death of the state concessions deal that doesn't involve the arrogance and ineptitude of union leaders.
Interesting also that those union leaders have left all the explaining to Larry Dorman and Matt O'Connor, the official union coalition spokesmen, as if those poor bastards were the ones who screwed up and saw union members vote down the $1.6 billion concessions plan.
Except the buck doesn't stop with either of those guys. The responsibility and the shame is all on those leaders who so horribly misjudged their own ability and the sentiments of the longtime state employees whose votes essentially killed the concessions agreement.
When state union leaders finally did emerge from seclusion Monday, they boldly announced an "indefinite" delay in formally accepting the results of the voting. They apparently don't have the balls to change the rules now that the votes are in, can't order a new vote on their own, are terrified that ratifying the results will trigger wholesale layoffs, and know the legislature is meeting Thursday to decide how to fill this monsterous hole in the state budget. And oh yes, the state's fiscal year ends Friday.
Union leaders were damned sure they could win approval of the concessions deal they'd cut with Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. After all, they'd always won in the past.
Every concessions pact state employee unions negotiated with previous governors (Republicans John G. Rowland and M. Jodi Rell) was dutifully approved because the union leaders told them it was good.
No matter that this would be the biggest concessions deal ever. No matter that they'd need to get 80 freaking percent of union votes cast to get this sucker approved. No matter that the political landscape had changed and the enemies of organized labor were now Internet savvy and hungry for union blood.
About 57 percent of state union members approved of the deal Malloy was offering. In any other democratic system, that would count as a sizeable victory. Unfortunately, Connecticut state employee union leaders decades ago created an incredibly fucked-up requirement giving a relatively minority of workers veto power over the wishes of their fellow employees.
Those same union leaders were apparently appalled when anti-union operatives started sending e-mails to workers questioning the package. Some insiders believe the unions were far too sluggish in responding to this Internet campaign, allowing rumors and half-truths to linger far too long.
The leadership's biggest error may have been misjudging the frustration and fear of veteran state employees, who apparently made up most of the 43 percent of union members who voted no.
Anyone who's worked for the state for 10 or 15 years has been through multiple concessions deals. You can argue these folks are still pampered and overpaid; you can't ignore the fact these same employees repeatedly agreed to concessions every time the state got its financial tit in a wringer.
This time around, when many veteran workers are approaching retirement, they saw a concessions package they feared would hurt the bottom line of their pensions and force them to join health care programs like anti-smoking courses.
These pissed-off union members basically told the leadership to take this concessions deal and shove it.
The trouble is they could also be shoving as many as 7,500 fellow state employees out the door, assuming Malloy keeps his layoff promises. Potential cuts in municipal aid could also trigger local layoffs.
Politically, this Democratic governor might see savage layoffs and draconian budget cuts as the best method to haul his abysmal poll numbers out of the toilet. The unions' arrogance and ineptitude have given Malloy every possible excuse he needs to get real ugly.
They've also handed anti-labor conservatives a giant political hammer and attached a label reading, "Please use on the heads of public employees as often as possible."