Malloy to labor: ‘Please, don’t question my commitment’

MASHANTUCKET–In the midst of a jobs tour calculated to convince business he is their ally and advocate, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stressed his common cause with labor today at the annual convention of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years, acknowledged obvious tensions with labor since he exacted a labor-savings agreement from state employees that his administration says is worth $1.6 billion over two years.

“We’ve not always agreed in the last eight months, but please, don’t question my commitment to labor,” Malloy said.

Malloy was applauded when he remind his audience at the MGM Grand at the Foxwoods casino that he negotiated with labor and did not attack collective bargaining rights, as occurred in other states.

And he was applauded again recounting his administration’s efforts to invest in infrastructure, generating jobs in the depressed construction industry.

“Don’t question my desire to replace Connecticut’s failing infrastructure. We need to get construction trades back to work, and we’re going to do it,” Malloy said.

Still, with his remonstrations of those who might question his commitment to labor and its agenda, Malloy seemed defensive at times. He was speaking hours after a new Quinnipiac University showed him with a 41-percent  approval rating.

In effect, he told them the alternative was worse. Tom Foley, the Republican he narrowly defeated last fall, would have cut spending by 18 percent to meet his no-tax pledge, gutting the state workforce.

“We would not recognize Connecticut today” with a Foley budget, he said. “You may not be happy about everything we did to solve the state’s fiscal problems. I understand that. By the way, that’s what negotiations are about.”

He made a similar it-could-be-worse argument on behalf of the Democratic Party and President Obama, whose re-election effort is generating little enthusiasm at the convention. He urged labor to look at the GOP presidential field.

“There are people running for president of the United States who would dismantle Medicaid, Medicare, scholarship programs and loan programs for students,” Malloy said.

But he returned to a central message: Malloy did not break faith with labor, even when he demanded concessions in a negotiation that was “hard work” and “at moments, disagreeable work.”

“But we never made it personal, and you never heard me attack labor. And I won’t,” Malloy promised.

If the line was a reach for applause, it failed.

He was applauded again promising to fight to keep machinists jobs in Connecticut as UTC does well with aerospace contracts at Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircraft, and he left to applause.

“We do appreciate the dialogue,” John Olsen, the AFL-CIO president, told him.

Malloy shook dozens of hands as he exited. Before he spoke, Malloy sat on the stage with two union leaders pivotal in the concession talks, Sal Luciano of AFSCME Council 4 and Sharon Palmer of the AFT.

Palmer said feelings still are a little bruised among state employees.

“He’s right, when he puts it in the context of what’s happening across the country,” Palmer said. “But Connecticut is Connecticut. We’re a blue state, and people’s expectations were somewhat different.”

The governor shook off a question later about whether he was trying to rebuild some bridges.

“This was not about bridges. This was about respect,” Malloy said. “They invited me, and I’m here.”

He was similarly dimissive of the new poll, attributing it to difficult choices he made to erase an inherited deficit, including tax increases and concession demands.

“There is enough in this thing for everybody to hate,” Malloy said. “I always appreciated that, but I don’t manage for the short-run, I manage for the long run, which is to get Connecticut in a situation where it can grow jobs.”