Concession deal leaves Malloy options to lay off new workers

Though unionized state employees can avoid layoffs for four years by granting the wage concessions sought by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the administration still has the flexibility to impose layoffs on hundreds, even thousands of new workers who might be hired in the next four years.

Three high-ranking administration officials confirmed that option during a mid-day briefing Friday at the executive club suites at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, though they quickly noted that the governor remains committed to avoiding layoffs at all costs.

“The goal isn’t to inflict pain” or unnecessarily reduce anyone’s standard of living,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy‘s senior adviser, said. “The goal is to continue to provide a level of public service people can be proud of, but in an affordable way.”

While the administration was trying to answer media questions about a tentative concession package reportedly worth $1.6 billion in total over the next two fiscal years, minority Republicans in the House and Senate unveiled a new video charging that much of that projected savings is unachievable.

“They can cook the books any way they want, the numbers do not add up and the efforts by the Malloy administration to sell this to the public are obviously not working,” House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said.

Cafero added that he believes roughly one-third of the $1.6 billion projected savings is “fantasy.”

The Democratic governor was criticized last week by Republican lawmakers for agreeing to grant job security for the next four fiscal years to any bargaining units that agree to accept the two-year wage freeze that is the fiscal linchpin of the tentative concession plan.

Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief negotiator in the concession talks, said the administration still would have the option, though, to lay off any new workers–unionized or not–hired after the deal might be ratified. But Ojakian, who also serves as the Malloy’s deputy budget director, echoed Occhiogrosso’s warning that this option is the last thing the governor wants to pursue.

“The governor’s been very clear that he doesn’t want job losses,” he said.

Eric Bailey, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said Friday that this type of option has been standard in past concession agreements.

But while none of the governor’s staff was even hinting Friday at layoffs to come, Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said the administration does anticipate new hiring in the next few years.

Barnes and Ojakian both said that state government typically loses 800 to 1,000 employees annually to retirements, and new restrictions on retirement benefits in the concession plan could prompt up to 1,000 more before they potentially take effect in September.

If the state workforce shrinks by as much as 2,000, Barnes said he could foresee agencies needing to restore up to 1,000 of those staff. And those new workers, even if assigned to jobs within bargaining units that agreed to the wage freeze, would not receive layoff protection.

The concession deal, which also includes new health care costs for workers, a wellness program, and an array of new limits on pension benefits, also hinges on labor-management committees finding $255 million in savings over the next two years in technology, health care and other areas.

The governor’s staff defended these and other less-defined savings–such as $245.9 million to be saved in two years by workers taking better care of their health–arguing there are numerous union ideas that largely were ignored by the past two Republican administrations dating back to 1995.

But the top Republicans in the state House and Senate blasted that argument Friday, releasing a new video on, set to the music of “Good Lovin'” by The Rascals and implying the song summarized the cozy relationship between labor and the Democratic governor.

“When Governor Malloy presented his budget, he boldly called for $2 billion in savings and concessions from state employees, noting, correctly, that ‘current wage, health care and pension benefit levels [for state employees] are simply not sustainable,'” added Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield. “He was right. But Governor Malloy didn’t deliver.”

McKinney called the expected savings from the labor-management committee cost-cutting ideas “gimmicks,” and said many of the suggestions will likely be things the budget already counts on in the form of agency lapses.

The projected health care savings are based on requiring employees, retirees and their dependents to get preventive care or pay additional premiums. McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said the concept is good policy, but won’t save money in the first two years because more people will be getting preventive care.

Documents released by the administration this week said the health plan change would save $205 million over the next two fiscal years, but the administration issued a revised calculation Friday that said it would save $245.9 million. Cafero called the projected health plan savings “a fallacy.”

“We have to make sure the deal is what it is,” he said. “We’re balancing a budget on this. You can’t balance a budget on $180 million worth of suggestion boxes and a healthier America.”

But Occhiogrosso said Malloy has delivered more structural reform in four months than his two GOP predecessors, M. Jodi Rell and John G. Rowland, did in their combined 16 years in office.

“I think this governor has done more than (GOP legislators) thought possible,” Occhiogrosso said. “I sense their frustration mounting by the day.”