AFSCME unit rejects concessions, making ratification unlikely

Chances of state employees ratifying their tentative concession agreement all but disappeared Tuesday night as a major AFSCME bargaining unit rejected the deal, leaving the last, slim hope for passage in the hands of a constituency hostile to givebacks: correction officers.

The last chance for ratification by AFSCME, whose rejection would doom the concessions, now rests with AFSCME Local 391, representing 1,850 employees of a half-dozen prisons. They would have to ratify the tentative agreement by a landslide, making up a deficit estimated at 850 votes.

In a vote confirmed late Tuesday night by a union spokesman, AFSCME’s P-2 bargaining unit, representing about 4,000 employees of social service agencies, rejected a tentative agreement with the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to cut the costs of health and retirement benefits.

In a separate vote, the same unit accepted a two-year wage freeze, a vote that is meaningless if the overall concession deal is rejected, as now appears certain. Two other correction locals already have voted against ratification by a margin of more than 2-1.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME, confirmed the P-2 voting results, but he did not provide exact vote totals. A labor source described the rejection as by a “narrow margin,” perhaps as few as 150 votes.

The vote was a stunning setback to the leadership of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, a coalition of 15 unions known as SEBAC, and to Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years.

In an emailed statement, Dorman declined to directly comment on the results, saying voting will continue through the end of week by AFSCME and elelments of nine other unions. Five unions already had ratified the deal.

“We remain confident that a strong majority of state workers will support the agreement — despite the concerted efforts of outside anti-public worker parties like the Yankee Institute to disrupt the process,” Dorman said.

SEBAC has accused the conservative institute of trying to sabotage the vote, a claim the institute’s director calls “delusional.”

The governor’s office reacted cautiously.

“We are aware of what’s being reported, but want to let the state employee unions finish their voting process in its entirety,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “As the governor has said all along, he hopes the agreement is ratified; if it’s not, then an alternative budget will be put in place – one that does not increase taxes beyond what has already been agreed to.”

Other bargaining units continued to endorse ratification. Supervisory judicial marshals, a small bargaining unit in CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, approved the tentative agreement Tuesday on a vote of 23 to 12, according to the union’s web site.

A majority of the nearly 45,000 unionized state employees — and most of the 15 unions in the SEBAC coalition — are likely to support the deal when all the votes are casts by the end of the day Friday. But that is not enough.

Not only do at least 14 unions have to ratify the agreement, they must represent 80 percent of all unionized state employees. With a membership of 15,600, AFSCME represents one-third of the state workforce, meaning that SEBAC cannot hit the 80-percent threshold without AFSCME.

No other union represents more than 20 percent.

Malloy, whose narrow victory last fall came with heavy support by organized labor, now is faced with ordering mass layoffs. He has said he will have no choice but to lay off as many as 7,500 state workers and make other budget cuts to balance the biennial budget.

If the recently announced May unemployment total of 170,700 people had been increase by 7,500, the state’s unemployment rate for the month would have increased from 9.1 percent to 9.5 percent.

While the amounts never were verified by the legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, the mix of givebacks and savings were valued by the administration at $1.6 billion over the two years of the $40 billion biennium budget that begins July 1.

The labor unions face their own challenges. In AFSCME, at least, the union’s leaders are at odds with the rank-and-file, who rejected a strong recommendation to accept a deal that would have guaranteed job security for four years and health benefits through 2022.

Workers were asked to accept a two-year wage freeze, with annual raises of 3 percent to come in the third, fourth and fifth years of the deal. And some workers a decade a way from retirement would have had to work longer or settle for a smaller pension.

State employees currently need to reach age 60 with 25 years of service, or 62 with 10 years, to qualify for normal retirement benefits. Those conditions would have jumped to age 63 with 25 years or age 65 with 10 years for any current workers who plan to retire after July 1, 2022.

And the penalty for workers who want to retire early would have gotten steeper. Workers’ pensions would have been reduced 6 percent, rather than the current reduction rate of 3 percent, for each year they leave state service early.

The retirement changes and a shift to an enhanced health plan that was projected to save the state money by requiring checkups and other standards of preventive care drew the most questions and opposition, union leaders say.

While the political focus Wednesday will be on the reaction by Malloy, the potential loss of support for labor in the General Assembly is substantial.

To minimize cuts in state aid to municipalites and to preserve jobs and state programs, Malloy and the legislature’s Democratic majority approved a budget with a record tax increase of nearly $1.5 billion, more if a hospital tax that is offset by federal revenue it will bring to the state is counted.

Now, in addition to a major tax increase, they could be on the hook for cutting programs and aid to municipalities.