Malloy sends early layoff warning to most of state’s workforce

Lisa Grasso Egan, undersecretary for the Office of Policy and Management's labor relations unit.

CTMIrror File Photo / CTMirror.org

Lisa Grasso Egan, undersecretary for the Office of Policy and Management’s labor relations unit.

Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s full plan to shrink the state workforce remains unclear, the picture started to come into focus this week.

Specifically, the administration sent a letter to seven unions representing close to 70 percent of the workforce warning they could be affected by new agency organizational plans that “may include reductions in force.”

The letter sent by Office of Labor Relations Undersecretary Lisa Grasso Egan covered most of the unionized state workforce directly under the governor’s authority.

Most of the remaining workforce — involving public colleges and universities, the judicial and legislative branches, and the Division of Criminal Justice — have their own administrative bodies that manage labor issues.

The governor’s budget office “has directed agencies to submit an organizational plan to reduce the scope of programming necessary to operate within the level of resources anticipated for FY (fiscal year) 17,” Grasso Egan wrote in a memo obtained by The Mirror. “We anticipate that there will be labor force impacts resulting from such organizational changes. These may include reductions in force.”

This letter is just the first step in a series of legal requirements before any workers could off the job. Once pink slips are served, there still is a period of time — which varies from union to union — before employment ends. Most involve several months, though some higher education faculty must receive up to one year’s notice.

The unions that received Grasso Egan’s letter were:

  • The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 15,000 employees, including correction officers, social and human services workers, clerical staff and certain mid-level higher education administrators.
  • SEIU Healthcare 1199, which represents about 7,000 health care workers in state government, including nurses, physicians, therapists and some social services workers.
  • CSEA-SEIU Local 2001, which represents about 4,000 employees ranging from transportation planners, architects and engineers to information technology specialists, and some Department of Education staff.
  • Connecticut Employees Union Independent, which represents about 4,000 maintenance and service workers.
  • The Administrative and Residual Employees Union, which represents about 3,200 non-managerial staff, including accountants, tax professionals and inspectors.
  • The Connecticut State Police Union, which represents about 1,000 troopers and other law enforcement personnel.
  • And the Connecticut Police and Fire Union, which represents about 900 law enforcement and fire personnel, many of whom work on public college and university campuses.

Malloy told Capitol reporters and the general public at various events this week that a significant reduction in the workforce is unavoidable given Connecticut’s fiscal challenges. The governor’s new budget relies on eliminating “several thousand” state jobs, according to his budget director, Benjamin Barnes.

“We are going to be closing state facilities, I’m sure. We are going to be laying off state employees, I’m quite certain,” Malloy said. “We’re going to be changing how we do business in a number of ways.”

The current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is anywhere from $220 million to $266 million in deficit — a modest gap of about 1.5 percent.

But the state has only $406 million in its emergency reserve and nonpartisan analysts are projecting much larger shortfalls of about $900 million in the upcoming fiscal year and topping $2 billion in each of the first two fiscal years after the November state elections.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition issued a series of statements this week insisting that the governor’s plans would worsen Connecticut’s economy while weakening services that protect the most vulnerable.

“Laying off thousands of state employees not only denies people the essential services they need; it damages Connecticut’s economy,” said Merisa Williams, a secretary at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury. “It leads to more budget shortfalls in the future, continuing a race to the bottom for our state’s quality of life.”

“It’s time to stop with the false assumption that working people are the only ones who should step up to protect and preserve our quality of life,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “The reality is that Connecticut has a fairness problem. …All working families contribute taxes at nearly twice the rate that that millionaires and billionaires do to fund vital services.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, Friday, again emphasized that his caucus believes state employee layoffs are unnecessary, provided the state restructures labor costs through concessions and other changes.

For example, Fasano proposed:

  • Increasing workers’ pension contributions from 2 percent to 4 percent;
  • Increasing health insurance premiums from 10 percent of plan costs to 15 percent, and increasing copayments for prescription drugs. The proposal would raise the copayment for a 90-day supply of maintenance drugs from $10 to $20 for preferred brand-name drugs and from $25 to $35 for non-preferred brand-named rugs. For a 30-day supply of prescription drugs to address acute conditions, the Republican leader’s proposal would increase the copayment for generic drugs from $5 to $10, raise the cost for preferred brand-name drugs from $20 to $30, and for non-preferred brand-name drugs, from $35 to $40. It would not change copayments for prescriptions to treat certain chronic conditions, including diabetes.

“There is no reason why we have to have layoffs,” he told reporters Friday. “This is draconian.”

Labor union leaders have said state employees won’t accept further concessions. And 11 months ago, when Senate and House Republicans first proposed more worker givebacks, Fasano said, “I think the governor’s greatest tool is layoffs” as a means to pressure the unions into concessions talks.

But Fasano said Friday the governor has given no indication he is pursuing concessions – only job cuts – and called for both sides to begin talks.

“It is my understanding that Governor Malloy has not met with the unions to discuss alternatives to layoffs, Fasano added. “… This is not the right thing to do. This is about people’s lives.”

Malloy spokesman Chris McClure responded that, “As the Governor said in his state of the state speech in February, state employees need to be part of the solution to our fiscal challenges. That should include a discussion about benefits. If state employees are ready to open that contract and offer ideas for savings, we welcome that discussion and stand ready to meet them at the bargaining table.

“One area where we disagree with Sen. Fasano – claiming that layoffs can be avoided by opening SEBAC is a false choice. Unless we want to raise taxes, reducing the size of state government is a difficult but necessary part of living within our means.”

An earlier version incorrectly listed the current costs for state employees’ prescription drug copayments.

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