Agency heads get instructions to prepare for layoffs

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent layoff instructions to agency heads today, another calculated reminder of the stakes if the administration and state employees fail to agree on $1 billion in concessions.

The detailed instructions sent by Benjamin Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, follow by two days his request for managers to identify 10 percent in additional spending cuts, another contingency in case concessions are not forthcoming.

“On Monday I asked all Commissioners to provide 10% reduction options, beyond those included in the Governor’s budget proposal,” Barnes told agency heads in a memo today. “It is clear that in many instances it will be impossible to achieve these levels of reduction without reducing the number of employees, both through attrition and also through lay-off.”

The instructions come as Barnes’ deputy, Mark Ojakian, is trying to obtain steep labor savings in talks with a coalition of state-employee unions, and the administration is sending a series of signals about the consequences of failed concession talks.

“There are deadlines that need to be met, notices that need to go out,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “If in the process of that people begin to understand the consequences of what will happen if there is not an agreement, then great. That’s not why it’s being done.”

The instructions cover procedures. They do not tell agency heads how many employees would be laid off if the concession talks fail, but Malloy previously has said the number would be in the thousands. He estimated 1,000 layoffs are required for every $100 million of net savings.

“Anybody can do the math,” Malloy said.

The unions offered a measured response.

“I recognize the governor is going to make contingency plans. He is the chief elected official. He has to do that,” said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the state employees’ coalition.

Dorman said the unions are focused on the continuing talks, as well as the public debate on taxes and the budget, and less concerned about contingencies.

“I think whether it is procedural or saber rattling is less important than focusing on what we need to do to get this economy moving forward,” Dorman said of today’s instructions. “And what we need to do to get this economy moving and protect workers is to focus on Plan A, not Plan B.”

But Plan B is a concern to others.

At a town-hall meeting Tuesday night in New Britain, Terry Edelstein of the Connecticut Community Providers Association expressed alarm about Barnes’s previous memo about reductions and what a 10-percent cut would do to social services provided by her members.

“I’m just getting ready. Either we’re going to reach agreements on cost savings or not,” Malloy said. “Don’t blame me for getting ready in case it doesn’t. I hear you. You know what I want to do.”

Today, Occhiogrosso used similar language, saying the layoff instructions are a step in getting ready for another contingency the governor would like to avoid.

“It’s 100-percent we need to be ready to pose an alternative budget if something that closely resembles what the governor has already proposed doesn’t come to pass,” Occhiogrosso said.  “There is no intention here of any sort of posturing. This is what the administration is required to do.”

Occhiogrosso said the governor has few options, given the framework he has outlined for the budget. On Tuesday night, Malloy said of his budget, “This is the package. The rudiments are there.”

His adviser said today that Malloy, who is under pressure to lessen the impact of new taxes on the middle class, is open to changes within framework that includes a competitive tax structure and no fiscal gimmicks, such as deferring pension contributions.

“Within that framework, he’s respectful of the legislative process. He understands he may not have gotten it perfect in the way revenue is spread out,” Occhiogross said. “Outside the framework, there is no room for compromise.”

The package of instructions sent by Barnes includes more than 50 pages of directions from Linda J. Yelmini, the state’s director of labor relations, about the various notice requirements for layoffs for different bargaining units.

Some employees are entitled to eight weeks notice, meaning layoff notices would have to go out at the end of the month to reduce the workforce by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

The instructions also tell agency heads how to calculate seniority of employees and what are their “bumping rights”–the ability to take someone else’s job if their position is eliminated.

Later today, Malloy said Barnes’ memo was not meant to be provocative. It merely reflects a reality: if there are no concessions, he must find $1 billion in additional cuts.

“There’s no way to get to that without a lot of people losing jobs. That’s just the reality,” Malloy said. “It’s not a threat. I’m being respectful. I’m not demonizing anybody in any way. I’m just getting prepared.”