Connecticut unions agree to givebacks, want wealthy taxed
By SUSAN HAIGH
Jul. 18, 2017
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Unionized state employees overwhelmingly approved a labor concessions package that's projected to save $1.5 billion over two years, but made it clear Tuesday they believe Connecticut's wealthiest should also step up and help solve the budget crisis.
The workers said it's now up to the General Assembly, which needs to affirm the labor-savings deal reached by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and union leaders, to include higher taxes on the high-income earners and other changes in a yet-to-be negotiated, two-year budget agreement.
"Once again, the governor has asked us to step up and we came to the call. Faced with a budget deficit, we were asked to help. And after months of negotiations, we've come up with every penny sought," said Darnell Ford, a direct care staffer at the Department of Children and Families. He added how "the middle class workers have done their part" by saving what's ultimately estimated to be $24 million over the coming years.
"Now it's time for our legislators to do their part by asking the billionaires and corporations to do the same," he said. "We can't be the only part in this process."
The labor-savings deal is the third concessions package approved by state employees over the past decade. All 15 voting members of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition approved the givebacks, which include four years of job security in return for concessions such as a two-year hard wage freeze retroactive to 2016, three furlough days, and higher premiums and pension contributions, among other things. It also creates a new hybrid pension/401(k)-style retirement plan for new state employees.
Ford said 83 percent of the rank-and-file members voted in favor of the package. They also approved 30 separate wage contracts affecting their particular bargaining units.
Malloy praised the state employees for agreeing to "historic concessions that will put the state on a sustainable path." He said it's now up to state lawmakers to approve the deal, which is considered key to covering a projected $5 billion deficit in the new two-year budget cycle that began July 1.
But it's unclear when a vote on the union deal or a new two-year state budget will happen. Malloy currently is running state government by using his limited spending authority.
Republicans, who hold largest number of seats in the General Assembly in recent memory, did not celebrate the unions' approval of the concessions agreement on Tuesday. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the deal ties the hands of future legislatures by extending the pension and benefits agreement for an additional five years to 2027 and preventing worker layoffs for the next four years. Also, she contends it doesn't make the long-term, lasting changes that will result in more savings down the road.
Both House and Senate Republicans have proposed their own budgets which call for legislation imposing changes to state worker conditions.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, disagreed that the GOP plans could reap more savings. He said his caucus is pushing ahead with a new two-year budget that will include the $1.5 billion in savings negotiated by Malloy. Aresimowicz said he still hopes to have the proposal ready by the end of July, rejecting Malloy's renewed call on Monday to pass his short-term "mini budget" in the meantime to prevent deep cuts to social service programs.
Five people were arrested on Tuesday for refusing to leave Malloy's state Capitol office. The group was protesting cuts to programs serving people with disabilities that are being imposed because the state still does not have a budget in place.