Can labor and management cooperate on savings after deal failed?

Though state employees have voted down a concessions package worth an estimated $700 million in the next budget year, there are elements of that plan that don’t require a vote and–on paper–could save as much as $170 million.

But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday that he’s not confident those savings–which were supposed to come from labor-management efforts to find efficiencies and cost-containment measures–are fully achievable now given his strained relationship with labor.

“We could build some of those (savings) in,” Malloy said while speaking with reporters Tuesday morning. “Given the current state of labor relations, I’m not sure we could build all that in.”

Malloy’s administration spent several months negotiating with representatives of the state’s 15 labor unions, reaching a tentative deal to save $1.6 billion in total over the next two fiscal years, only to see the package rejected.

“You have to keep that relationship in perspective,” he said.

Negotiators of the tentative deal have noted that the three efficiency programs could be implemented even without new contract language, provided both the administration and state employees want to work together.

The largest of those three initiatives involved a broad effort by both management and labor to hit a savings target of $90 million in each of the next two years by reducing agency procurement costs, making operations more efficient and identifying other cost-saving measures throughout state government.

The other two labor-management initiatives were more specialized.

A health cost containment committee would investigate options to renegotiate contracts with health care providers, improve service delivery and other changes with the goal of saving $40 million next year and $35 million in 2012-13.

The initiative would look to cut government costs through new technologies and reduced use of outside tech consultants with savings targets of $40 million next year and $50 million in 2012-13.

West Hartford attorney Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said Monday that the unions haven’t ruled out participating in any cost-saving ventures.

But SEBAC leaders also announced Monday that they were reviewing their bylaws in hopes of salvaging the concession deal – which was approved by a majority of their members, though not enough to meet ratification thresholds – and Livingston the coalition is focused on that goal right now. “Our real intention is to produce an agreement that everyone can be part of,” he said.

“Our members were committed to saving taxpayers money long before the cost discussions with the Malloy administration began earlier this year,” State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition spokesman Matt O’Connor said Tuesday. “We hope the governor won’t retreat from his pledge to work with our members as partners in flattening the state’s bureaucracy and delivering services more efficiently.”

When the concession deal was announced, Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the legislative majority took heat from Republican lawmakers, who called the efficiency program savings targets too aggressive.

And Republican leaders said Tuesday that while they still believe that’s the case, they questioned why the full savings targets were acceptable when the concession package was still under consideration – but not now after the deal has been voted down.

“It’s something that the governor should be prepared to answer,” Sen. Robert J. Kane of Watertown, ranking GOP senator on the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday.  “If it was something that was part of the original budget, why shouldn’t it be part of it now.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, charged that administration officials long have known that the savings targets were too aggressive but no longer are willing to gamble on them now that the concession deal has been scuttled.

“I don’t know what to take from this governor,” Cafero said. “We have a governor who in his statements acts cocksure of what he wants, what he’s going to get, knows exactly what it’s going to cost, and exactly what it’s going to do. Then things turn out to be the opposite.”