About 600 state workers likely to be jobless before concession vote ends

An estimated 158 state employees out of 3,008 that have received layoff notices to date already have been separated from their jobs, and that separation total is likely to approach 600 before unionized workers finish their second vote on concessions, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office reported Wednesday.

And while the administration continues to make plans to shrink state government in the event concessions fail, two top officials said some planned closures have been delayed or modified given that unions have scheduled a second vote on givebacks.

Many of those workers removed from their jobs would be offered them back if concessions are granted, according to the administration. While this would be stressful for workers and pose logistical problems for state services, Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes said it’s an inconvenience the administration can deal with.

Rehiring workers “is going to be a whole lot easier than telling people they don’t have a job anymore,” Barnes said Wednesday during the administration’s weekly briefing on layoffs.

The governor submitted a July 15 report to the legislature that called for about 3,600 Executive Branch layoffs, but cut funding for more than 6,500 positions in total. The latter figure also reflects elimination of vacant posts as well as estimates of the jobs that the Legislative and Judicial branches as well as public colleges and universities likely would have to eliminate to deal with administration-imposed budget cuts.

With 3,008 layoff notices issued to date, up from 1,851 issued through July 20, the Executive Branch is nearing the end of serving pink slips, Barnes said.

The largest number of notices, 499, have been served in the Department of Transportation, followed by the Judicial Branch with 447 and Developmental Services with 443. Other safety net agencies also were targeted for big job cuts, with 233 notices served in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, 208 in Children and Families, and 186 in Social Services.

Malloy has insisted since the first union concession vote in June rejected a plan to save $1.6 billion over two years that while he wouldn’t oppose a second vote, his administration would move forward with plans to cut staff and programs to otherwise balance the budget.

Besides cutting funds for jobs, the July 15 plan also cut dozens of programs and closed over 20 state facilities including armories, prisons, adult education centers, various agency branch offices, and group homes and respite centers for the developmentally disabled.

And the administration’s $43.2 million cut to this year’s Judicial Branch budget prompted Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers to announce the closure of four courthouses and realignment of services in several others.

Some of these closures, such as the shut down of prisons in Mansfield and Enfield, will happen regardless of the next concession vote, to help balance the budget. More than 260 pink slips have been served to date to Correction Department staff and another four to University of Connecticut Health Center workers who treat inmates.

But Barnes said certain other closures that hinge on the concession debate have been modified — not suspended — to minimize disruption of services to the public should givebacks ultimately be approved. “We’re making adjustments as we go forward,” he said.

For example, plans to close mental health beds in Middletown were modified to allow a more gradual phase out over time, allowing some vacant beds to remain unused now while keeping others open until after the labor issue becomes more clear.

Malloy’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said that weekly media updates on layoffs were not designed to pressure union members to vote for concessions, adding that he believes all sides better understand the fiscal stakes as the second vote approaches.

“I think it’s also safe to say there is a little bit of a different vibe this time,” Occhiogrosso said, adding he believes there is less confusion among unions about components of the concession deal.

State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition spokesman Matt O’Connor could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The package, which includes a two-year wage freeze, a new employee wellness program, restrictions on pension and other retirement benefits, and labor-management initiatives to cut spending in several areas, is supposed to save $700 million this year and $900 million in 2012-13.

The agreement also calls for annual raises of 3 percent in each of the three years following 2012-13, while the state’s health care and retirement benefit system–which expires in 2017–would be extended through 2022.

Bargaining units that accept the wage freeze also would receive protection from layoffs for four years.