Malloy: UConn pay raises don’t reflect new economic reality

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday a union contract for non-teaching professional staff at the University of Connecticut, now before the legislature, is out of step with current economic conditions.

“That contract does not fully represent the new economic reality, and I have some concerns about it, but the legislature is in charge on this one,” Malloy told reporters at a press conference in Cromwell. “I think there is an economic reality that people are having a hard time adjusting to.”

The Democratic governor also said he thinks the deal negotiated by UConn officials may violate the current labor contract between the state and the coalition that bargains health and retirement benefits on behalf of all state employee unions.

The pending contract for the 1,839 members of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association provides for annual raises ranging from 3 to 4.5 percent over the next five years. The legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office estimates the additional five-year cost of the contract to be $93.9 million.

Malloy classified general pay raises under the contract of 2 percent in the first year and 1 percent each year thereafter as reasonable. But, he said, an added 2.5 percent annual increase in return for increasing the work week from 35 to 40 hours was “difficult” to accept.

One provision in the proposed contract, called a phased-retirement program, would allow staff to work less than half time for up to three years and still count those years toward pension calculations. The employees also would still receive their normal vacation and holiday pay.

“I think it may violate our SEBAC agreement,” said Malloy of the agreement his administration negotiated with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition. “I think that’s a SEBAC issue. It’s not an individual negotiation issue.”

Malloy has routinely come out against offering state employees early retirement packages, arguing that, while they save money in the short term, they cost more in the long term.

The legislature has until March 23 to reject the UConn contract or the deal is deemed approved and would take effect July 1.

Malloy has said he thinks the legislature should give the proposed contract an up or down vote, but stopped short of calling on the legislature to reject it.

“I don’t play a role in it, but I will answer questions about the evaluation of it. I think I am going pretty far by saying that if it’s approved, if it becomes the contract, it will be a contract made in this year that will make all other contracts much more difficult to enter into, or to negotiate. It has implications… It’s going to make the legislature’s job a lot harder if they intend to balance the budget.”

The Malloy administration is in negotiations with about 30 bargaining units, whose existing contracts also expire in June. The governor has said his administration is asking everyone to recognize the sluggish Connecticut economy.

The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting a deficit approaching $900 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year, and shortfalls in excess of $2 billion in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively.

Earlier this week, a motion to endorse the deal by the Appropriations Committee failed among the Senate members in a six-to-six deadlock. Sen. Joan Hartley was the lone Democrat to join the five GOP senators in opposing the agreement. Among House members, the vote was 24-19 to recommend approving the contract. Twenty-four of the panel’s 26 Democratic House members voted to back the deal. Two Democratic representatives, Cristin McCarthy Vahey of Fairfield and Douglas McCrory of Hartford, joined all 17 Republican representatives to oppose it.

House and Democratic leadership declined to comment Thursday on whether they intend to bring the contract up for a vote. Dan Livingston, the top attorney for SEBAC, said he unaware of the concern over the retirement provision and couldn’t comment immediately on whether the UConn contract would violate the statewide agreement.

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel said state law provides for voluntary schedule reductions if it doesn’t negatively impact vital services.

“We’ve always said these reductions ought to be pursued, especially if they’ll help with long-term savings. The governor is clearly mistaken about this provision – and misleading lawmakers if that’s why he’s asking them to disrespect the collective bargaining process and take another vote on this agreement,” said Hochadel, whose union includes UCPEA.

In a statement Thursday, UConn spokesman Stephanie Reitz said the state’s flagship public university is awaiting a decision from the legislature.

“The university and the union negotiated a contract that both felt was fair and responsible. It would make UConn’s workforce leaner, more efficient and more productive, saving millions. As always, the General Assembly makes the final decision with respect to every labor agreement. If it is not approved, UConn and the union will return to the bargaining table.”

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