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Edith Prague: They're Out Of Their Minds To Reject Union Deal

Sen. Edith Prague Lawmaker understandably astonished by state employees' failure to ratify pact

Hartford Courant Editorial

June 24, 2011

Among the many in Connecticut dumbfounded by state workers' apparent refusal this week to approve a concessions agreement that would save thousands of jobs is Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia, who aptly called labor's failure to do its share "a nightmare" and "a disaster."

She's right. Although there are still some votes to count, that looks to be just a formality. Now, lacking worker concessions, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will have to lay off at least 7,500 state employees. He and the legislature will have to shred safety-net services for the poor and helpless and cut into state aid to cities and towns.

All of those alternatives, including a reduction in municipal aid, will have to be on the table. It's a nightmare and a disaster any way you look at it.

Ms. Prague, co-chairwoman of the legislature's labor and public employees committee, is distraught because the concessions deal negotiated between the Malloy administration and the State Employees Bargaining Agents Coalition was the only avenue and a fair and reasonable one to avert mass layoffs.

It produced $1.6 billion in savings over two years by, among other things, imposing a two-year wage freeze and making employees' health and pension benefits less costly to taxpayers. For their part, workers would have gotten a four-year no-layoff guarantee.

A majority of union members approved the agreement in voting this week, but not the unobtainable 80 percent supermajority required by the SEBAC bylaws. A minority of spoiled, perhaps misguided, clueless and selfish union members were able to sink the deal because of the 80 percent requirement, causing Ms. Prague to lament that "nobody in their right mind, under these circumstances, would turn down that agreement. The private sector folks would die for this kind of package."

The exasperated labor committee co-chairwoman added that state employees will "never get another thing out of me."

Strong words, but deserved.

Rejection of the concessions agreement was a kick in the teeth to pro-labor lawmakers like Ms. Prague.

And it is a major embarrassment to Mr. Malloy, who now must pink-slip a large part of the workforce that supported his candidacy last fall and present a draconian budget alternative to the legislature all because a few thousand union members wouldn't vote for fair concessions.

Change collective bargaining laws

What's next, besides a special session of the legislature to close the budget gap caused by labor's failure?

For one thing, the legislature yes, although heavily Democratic and pro-labor should consider changes in the collective bargaining laws that would let the state take statutory action to get government costs under control.

The fiscal fate of Connecticut state government shouldn't depend on the selfish whims of a minority of unionized state workers voting on tentative concessions agreements.

Senate Republican leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield says he wants the legislature to vote on such things as eliminating costly and unnecessary longevity payments does the state really need to pay people extra to keep them on the payroll? and to discuss whether retirement rules can be changed to bar overtime pay from being figured into pension calculations.

In Wisconsin this year, the legislature passed a bill forbidding most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation, and requiring public workers to pay more toward their pensions and doubling their health insurance contribution.

Such changes might be appropriate for Connecticut or not but they and other reforms should be discussed, especially when state unions turn down a fair agreement that would have helped put Connecticut state government on a fiscally sustainable course.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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