After a weekend of deliberations, the state employee unions asked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday to "reconvene discussions as soon as possible" to reach a new agreement on concessions and savings.
The move by the unions is their latest attempt to avert about 6,500 layoffs and the resulting cutbacks in state services, including the closing of Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield. Those cuts have been ordered by Malloy to close a projected budget gap of $1.6 billion over two years - a sum that was designed to be covered by the union agreement.
"We recognize that the budget adjustments that passed Thursday in the General Assembly create an effective deadline to the parties to reach a ratified agreement before August 31," chief union negotiator Daniel Livingston wrote to Malloy. "It is, we hope and believe, our mutual desire to do so as long before the deadline as we can."
Malloy and his senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, have repeatedly said they would not reopen the deal and renegotiate with the unions. They have said, however, that they would clarify various aspects of the complicated agreement, if necessary.
Malloy's response Tuesday was the same that it has been for weeks. His spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan, said, "The governor has said all along he's happy to clarify the language of the agreement if that will allow it to be ratified."
Malloy himself has consistently wanted to avoid layoffs. He sent out very few layoff notices in a first round that were later rescinded.
Occhiogrosso noted that the unions are operating under complicated rules that led to the failure to ratify the four-year, no-layoff agreement that includes changes in health care and pension benefits for unionized state employees.
"Absent some change in their process, I don't think the governor has a lot of confidence that an agreement can be ratified, which they have acknowledged," Occhiogrosso said in an interview. "This is something that they need to figure out. There are very few people who would like to continue going down the path that we're on" toward thousands of layoffs.
When asked if the Malloy administration is working to help the unions out of the dilemma as the layoffs approach, he said, "It's a [voting] process they control. There's nothing we can do about that."
In other developments Tuesday, the union leaders voted 11-4 to ratify the original deal with Malloy, but the motion failed because the complicated union rules require that 14 of the 15 unions must vote in favor of deals that change health care and pension rules.
In addition, Courant columnist Kevin Rennie disclosed a letter written to Malloy by Sal Luciano, the executive director of AFSCME Council 4, on the highly controversial topic of the state's SustiNet health care plan. Some union members have blamed the SustiNet controversy for members' rejection of the concession package.
"The state employee health plan will become part of SustiNet, which some call a 'Cadillac plan,' clearly a derogatory term to imply overly rich benefits," Luciano wrote to Malloy on April 14. "It is a specious claim. The state plan was modest when it was launched, more like a Chevy, but unlike other plans, it has not suffered degradation. That doesn't turn it into a Cadillac; it simply means the other Chevy plans suffered from poor upkeep and now belong in the junkyard."
Luciano continued, "SustiNet was designed to work with the federal Affordable Care Act. Those who falsely claim Connecticut will lose funding if [SustiNet] becomes law are doing what opponents of health care have done for a century: frightening Americans and their leaders."
When asked about Luciano's letter, SEBAC spokesman Matt O'Connor said that the deal between Malloy and union leaders "said nothing about universal health care."
He added, "What it did say was that the benefits and access of state employees to their health care would be protected through at least July 1, 2022. It did say that neither the legislature nor the governor could make unilateral changes to employees' health care for at least 11 years - five years longer than they are currently protected."
O'Connor continued, "The agreement would have actually made state employee benefits less subject to legislative manipulation - whether for or against the SustiNet bill or a universal health care proposal - than they are now. SEBAC leaders resolved six years ago to reaffirm the authority over retired and active state employee health care benefits, and to keep the General Assembly or the governor from imposing changes without negotiation."
"I don't think the governor has a lot of confidence that an agreement can be ratified, which they have acknowledged. This is something that they need to figure out."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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