Layoff notices on hold again as talks continue

Negotiations over the weekend yielded no deal for concessions or other labor savings sought to balance the state budget, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned Monday that time is growing short, even as he delayed the issuance of layoff notices for at least one more day.

"They know the deadline. I know the deadline," Malloy said of the unions."There's not a lot of time before we have to start to do things."

Malloy Pratt

Malloy taking questions on the labor talks.

Those things include layoff notices, originally planned for last week, that would allow the administration to cut the workforce soon after the start of the fiscal year on July 1 if the concession talks fail to yield a significant portion of the $1 billion in savings demanded by Malloy.

"No layoff notices will be going out today, though the planning for what happens if there is no deal continues," said Roy Occhiogrosso, the senior adviser to Malloy.

Union leaders now are being briefed daily by their negotiators, a sign that the talks likely are focusing on a shrinking number of contested issues. Sources who have talked to individuals briefed on the negotiations say, not surprisingly, that retirement age remains a sticking point.

The administration and labor are not commenting on the talks, but Malloy has repeatedly said his goals are permanent reductions in the cost of labor, not one-time savings, and retirement costs are major concern.

A union spokesman, stressing he was not commenting directly on these talks, acknowleged that retirement costs are central to most labor-management disputes, and the issue has been raised in public forums by Malloy and employees.

"The issue of retirement security was frequently mentioned at the governor's town-hall meetings" on the budget by Malloy and by state employees, said Matt O'Connor, a union spokesman. "The issue of retirement security is important to every American these days."

Connecticut is not alone is looking at pushing back retirement age as a means to curb the rising costs of retirements, including health care for retirees. A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures found 10 states passed laws last year to keep public-sector employees working longer.

Two years ago, the administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell obtained a significant concession from SEBAC, the so-called "rule of 75" that saves the state from paying retiree health costs until the recipient's age and years of service add up to 75.

With a tight blackout on the talks, it was unclear today what the administration is demanding on changes to retirement age.

A union that represents administrative workers posted a statement on its web site today knocking down rumors of a settlement.

"Despite rumors, and speculation about what a SEBAC agreement might possibly contain, there has been no agreement reached yet between SEBAC and the State of Connecticut," said the Administrative & Residual Employees Union.

SEBAC is the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.

"No matter what happens, public service workers will continue to work with fellow middle class and working families throughout our state, and with our community allies, in fighting to make Connecticut a better, fairer place to live everyone," SEBAC said in a statement.

Occhiogrosso's statement struck an optimistic tone.

"As has also been the case all along, the governor remains hopeful that a deal will be reached that will provide the type of structural reform necessary to create a sustainable relationship between the state and its workforce."

The administration has been trying to increase pressue on the unions, but a step last week may have backfired. The administration Friday backed away from a list of more than 4,700 jobs slated for elimination through layoffs should the concession talks fail.

The Office of Policy and Management prepared $1.67 billion in options, from which $1 billion in cuts could be chosen if the labor talks end without a package of savings sought by Malloy. By Friday evening, the administration stressed  that the options only were a "framework."

"The framework remains. The details could and probably would change," Occhiogrosso said. Of the list of positions slated for elimination, he added, "That is a first draft. There easily could be positions added or taken off."

Issuing the specific list of positions to eliminated did not appear to strengthen the administration's hand in obtaining a tentative deal, nor will it help with ratification if one is obtained.

The list was sufficiently specific that a state employee might calculate his chances of a being laid off, potentially making the vast majority of employees conclude their jobs are safe.

Jacqueline Rabe contributed to this report.