Non-union workers getting $6.2 million in longevity pay next week

State government will issue nearly $10.3 million in longevity payments to senior employees on Thursday, including nearly $6.2 million to non-union executives, managers and other staff and $4.1 million to union workers, according to numbers released Friday by Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo.

About 39,200 union workers forfeited their scheduled longevity payments as part of the concession deal approved in August. But nearly $466,000 will be paid to 757 state police troopers and 437 correction officer supervisors who rejected wage and longevity givebacks.

Abut 5,200 other union employees–mostly professionals in higher education and the Judicial Branch–also will be bonuses, but at a reduced rate agreed to in the concession deal. Their payments total more than $3.6 million.

It is the the $6.2 million being paid to 3,085 non-union workers that has caused a stir lately, however. Minority Republicans in the state Senate urged Malloy in writing recently to rescind the payments, while the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition filed a grievance earlier this month over the bonuses.

Administration officials have countered that shy of a legislative repeal of the longevity statute, canceling longevity payments for non-union workers could be challenged in court as an illegal taking of salary–a legal argument that Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, has challenged.

In a 2007 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that final, pro-rated longevity payments earned by two retiring assistant attorneys general had to be included in their pension calculations. Administration officials also point to the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill in which the high cout found public-sector employees can have a property interest in their employment that can’t be removed without due process.

The longevity pay system, first created by statute in 1967 and subsequently guaranteed in most union contracts since then, rewards most workers with bi-annual bonuses after they have achieved 10 years of service. The statutes also call for higher bonuses after workers hit their 15-, 20 and 25-year anniversaries, after which longevity pay is capped.

Under concession deal reached last summer between Malloy and the state employee unions, about 39,800 unionized employees forfeited their entire longevity payment this October. Another 5,248 unionized employees, primarily involving higher education faculty and Judicial branch professionals, forfeited 25 percent of their October payment.

Also under that deal, all unionized employees hired after July 1, 2011 are ineligible to ever receive longevity pay.

For non-union workers, the administration opted not to cancel October payments.

Instead it has capped payments for non-union workers. That means those payments never will increase in future years, regardless of how much experience non-union staff accumulate. It also means that those non-union workers who lacked the minimum experience level of 10 years when longevity payments last were issued in April are permanently ineligible from receiving them.

Administration officials insist this produced far greater savings than the concession deal’s provision regarding longevity pay over the next few decades.

“We filed a grievance under the recently ratified SEBAC 2011 agreement because we believe that the comparable or greater sacrifice understanding must apply in the short-term, too,” coalition spokesman Matt O’Connor said. “Especially since paying out these bonuses now means there are some managers who won’t sacrifice their longevity at all.”

Union spokesmen have noted that some senior Malloy officials already had qualified for the top longevity payment before the new cap was imposed, meaning their payments won’t decline under this system in October or later.

McKinney argued in a separate letter to the governor that the statutory and legal precedent gives the governor the authority to reform the longevity pay system, including canceling payments.

McKinney added Friday that the longevity statute also gives the administration the flexibility to reduce payments to non-union staff.

For example, the statute reads that employees with greater than 10 by less than 15 years of service shall receive either $75, “or an amount determined in accordance with the longevity rate schedule established for his class of position by the Commissioner of Administrative Services, whichever is greater.” And in the case of managers, they are entitled only to the amount set in the commissioner’s schedule.

Similar language and options exist for workers with more experience. The fixed payments in the statute increase to $150 for 15-20 years of experience, $225 for 20-25 years, and $300 for more than 25 years.

“I’m disappointed that the governor refused to ask the commissioner of DAS to even issue a new longevity payment schedule” that matches the minimum levels set in statute, McKinney said Friday, adding it would have significantly discounted longevity payments for many non-union staff.

“The longevity payments have no business in state government anymore,” he added. “They’re not based on merit. They’re not based on how well you do your job.”

But the governor’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said he believes altering existing pay schedules to match the minimum amounts in statute could run into the same legal problems involving with rescinding longevity pay without legislative action.

Malloy’s senior advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, reasserted Malloy’s oft-stated stance on the issue Friday: “He doesn’t think anybody should be getting longevity payments.”

Occhiogrosso added that Malloy can’t accomplish that without legislative action, and is ready to work with lawmakers on this during the regular 2012 session, which starts in February. “I think he’s probably glad we’re spending less money on it now than last year,” Occhiogrosso added.