Malloy, unions clarify concession deal as ratification votes start

The Malloy Administration and the state employees unions have signed a joint statement in hopes of dispelling rumors about how health coverage would change under a tentative concession deal being considered by 45,000 unionized workers.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition is posting the document on its web site to clarify provisions in the deal that are meant to control health costs by encouraging well-care visits and other best practices.

The statement signed by Daniel E. Livingston and Mark Ojakian, the chief negotiators for the unions and the administration, is meant to dispel rumors that the deal eventually would place employees in a new state insurance program called SustiNet.

SustiNet will allow municipalities and non-profit groups with state contracts to buy health insurance through the state, with a goal of achieving savings by creating larger pools of workers.

The statement says that under the tentative deal, health care could not be changed again without employee approval until 2022, regardless of any legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Fifteen unions with a total of 34 bargaining units have until June 24 to ratify or reject a tentative agreement reached May 13 by negotiators for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Employees Bargaining Coalition.

Malloy says rejection of the deal means mass layoffs, and the unions’ chief negotiator, Dan Livingston, told employees during a three-hour meeting at the State Armory last weekend as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost.

The administration says the agreement saves $1.6 billion over two years through a two-year wage freeze and other labor savings, with Malloy promising four years of job security and three years of 3 percent raises after the freeze.

“Nowhere else in the country will you find four years of job security,” Livingston tells employees in a video of Armory meeting posted on the SEBAC web site, part of a continuing campaign to win ratification.

Voting on ratification of the deal is now underway at some of the 34 bargaining units in the coalition, but most of the voting will not take place until the week of June 20, said Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman.

Employees also have expressed fears that the tentative agreement, which creates a Health Enhancement Program, would be intrusive, allowing the state to punish workers if they fail to follow prescribed care.

Livingston said workers could save money by participating in the optional program. It requires them to seek standard exams and health screenings, but not follow any specific treatment protocols.

O’Connor said health questions have dominated many informational sessions, which will continue even as the voting continues.

“We are in the ratification process, but we are continuing the education process. We had a flurry of meetings this week. We have some next week,” O’Connor said.

Only one of the smaller bargaining units has completed voting. SEBAC is not announcing results until after all units complete the voting.

“The calendar is full, literally right up until the 24th,” O’Connor said. “A lot of the unions have ongoing voting. A few have electronic voting.”

Under SEBAC rules, ratification requires passage by at least 14 of the 15 unions, which range in size from the 61 members of the Federation of School Administrators to 15,600 members of AFSCME Council 4.

At the State Armory, Livingston acknowledged the anger that many workers feel over Malloy’s surprising call in February for $2 billion in labor savings over two years to help balance the budget.

“There is nobody madder at Dan Malloy than I am,” Livingston told workers at the Armory. “This could have been a whole other way.”

Livingston said he would have preferred negotiating savings with Malloy prior to the governor presenting his budget in February, but the administration has said it didn’t have the time. Malloy took office in January.

Livingston, the son of a union leader, said he was told to never duck a fight over fear, but not to start one from anger. The deal should not be rejected simply because Malloy offended some union members, he said.

The union opened the talks intent on job security while the state stabilizes its finances, but also to preserve the right to negotiate health and retirement benefits, which are under attack in other states.

The 20-year health-and-pension agreement negotiated by the Rowland Administration expires in six years. If the tentative deal is ratified, it is extended to 2022.

“Six years from now, they don’t have to negotiate pensions if the legislature changes the law, as is happening elsewhere,” Livingston said. “Follow the trend around the country.”