Unions reject Rell’s call for more concessions

State employee unions have rejected Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s request for a second concession package that would have allowed layoffs under certain conditions, required four more furlough days, deferred one cost-of-living raise and canceled longevity bonuses for senior workers.

The proposal, which the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition said showed “cynical disrespect” to state government’s 45,000 unionized employees, also asked prison workers who rejected wage givebacks one year ago to reconsider their action.

“The revenues continue to deteriorate, we have further deficits and we are looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars across the board,” Rell’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert L. Genuario said. “We have looked at everything, and quite frankly we can’t exempt any one area of the budget.”

Rell, whose term ends Jan. 5 and who is not seeking re-election, is facing a $518.4 million deficit this fiscal year and a $725.7 million projected shortfall in the budget she must oversee for its first six months starting July 1.

Genuario rejected union accusations that the administration was “scapegoating” workers. “Last year we had a meaningful and successful dialogue with our state employee unions,” he said. “We hold our state employees, both union and nonunion, in high regard.”

According to documents released by union leaders, the administration asked for several new concessions to complement the package ratified by unions and the General Assembly in May.

That deal exempted most unionized workers from layoffs both this fiscal year and next, a provision that Rell has said makes it difficult for her administration to achieve an unusually large, $473 million undefined savings target set by the legislature in this fiscal year’s $18.64 billion overall budget.

The administration, which has to hit a $530 million undefined savings target in 2010-11, asked SEBAC to allow layoffs of any workers, even those who agreed to wage concessions last year, provided the layoffs are tied to program reductions approved by the legislature.

Unions representing about 5,200 prison guards and 600 of their Department of Correction supervisors refused to accept wage concessions last year, were not exempt from layoffs under the first agreement. The governor’s latest proposal called for these unions to provide the wage givebacks offered by other bargaining units last year.

The governor’s office did not release cost-savings projections for the various components of her latest concession request, which also included:

  • Cancellation of “longevity” bonuses provided twice annually to workers that have more than 10 years of experience. Legislative analysts have estimated this cost state government about $15 million last fiscal year for unionized workers, and about $28 million for nonunion staff.
  • One additional furlough days this fiscal year, and three additional in 2010-11.
  • Deferral for six months of the cost-of-living increase due all unionized workers next fiscal year.
  • New limits on accrued paid sick and vacation leave.

Since Rell announced shortly before Christmas that she would seek a second round of concessions, union leaders warned they would offer proposals to make government operations more cost-efficient, but not through layoffs or further cutbacks in pay or benefits.

And the letter sent this week by SEBAC representatives to Rell accused the governor of ignoring the concessions workers already have made.

“What kind of message do you send to 45,000 working families who sacrificed substantial wages and benefits to produce an agreement?” union leaders wrote. “Apparently that is not an issue of real concern to you, although you’d think it would matter a lot to a governor who understood the value of a real partnership between managers and working people.”

Labor officials also accused the governor of trying to weaken state programs at a time when citizens need government services the most. “Those people are hurting Governor Rell, and they need a state government that responds to their needs.”

The letter also touts more than $700 million in total projected savings spread across three fiscal years from the last deal, but doesn’t mention that nearly 50 percent of that savings didn’t actually come from unionized workers pockets.

Nearly $210 million in savings is tied to a retirement incentive program – a perk for senior employees but nonetheless a cost-saving measure that couldn’t have been offered without union approval. Similarly, another $129 million was saved by the unions giving government permission to defer contributions into savings accounts that support retiree pension and health benefit savings accounts. The actual benefits and the schedule over which they are provided were not changed.