State begins layoffs with 165 pink slips

State employees rally outside the Capitol to protest threatened layoffs and requests for givebacks.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

State employees rally outside the Capitol March 29 to protest threatened layoffs and requests for givebacks.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration issued the first 165 layoff notices Monday in a process that’s expected to result in about 2,000 pink slips before it’s finished.

According to a “fact sheet” released by the state Office of Policy and Management, Monday’s initial wave of layoffs involved unionized and non-union workers in two agencies: the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

At least 100 of Monday’s notices were served to Department of Children and Families, including workers at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, where youths convicted of crimes in juvenile court are incarcerated.

“The individuals affected today are not at fault,” Malloy wrote in a statement issued along with the fact sheet. “This is a difficult process – for state government and for all of our employees. But it’s one that nevertheless must occur as we adapt to our new economic reality. State government cannot provide all the services it has always delivered. We must align spending with revenue. We must ensure government provides its core services while living within its means. And we must budget based not on what we wish we had, but on the dollars we actually have available to spend. We must step up and lead by making difficult decisions now to improve our outlook down the road.”

Administration officials have warned that workforce reductions probably would take several weeks to implement. In the fact sheet, the administration wrote that it would handle these reductions “respectfully and legally.

“As such, there will be additional reduction notices in the future. We will continue to notify the public as future notices go out.”

The administration added in its memo that “those employees who receive notices will be laid off from their positions and be relieved of their duties at the close of business today. … They will be paid their salary and maintain all their state-provided benefits throughout the contractual notice period.”

The layoff notices drew a sharp response from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the parent union for the two bargaining units affected by Monday’s layoff notices.

“I think it’s disgraceful that our governor is playing political football with the lives of dedicated public service workers,” said Linette Gaunichaux, a unit supervisor at the juvenile training school and a member of the executive board of AFSCME Local 2663. “…The relationships that our staff have built with the kids is being torn apart and vital services are being disrupted. Once again, it’s the poor and middle class who suffer. In Connecticut, it’s like the saying goes, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, accused the administration of violating members’ contractual rights in two ways.

Affected unions are supposed to be given an opportunity to meet the administration before layoff notices are released and be granted an opportunity to offer alternatives, he said, charging this requirement was not met.

Secondly, the umbrella contract that spells out benefits for all unionized state employees stipulates that if other positions are open, these must be offered to laid-off workers before they can be offered to potential new employees. Luciano said the unions were not given an opportunity to review the administration’s records and to confirm that it is adhering to their requirement.

“They may have frozen (vacant) positions, but I don’t know that for a fact,” he said.

“The layoffs at CJTS are not being handled humanely at all,” Luciano also said. “The administration’s actions today have not only violated our members’ contractual rights, but have placed the safety and security of staff and residents at even greater risk.”

“As we’ve said this is a difficult process that we will ensure is done respectfully and legally,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes said in response to the allegations of contract violations. “We will honor all of our collective bargaining agreements.”

The executive branch is responsible for overseeing approximately 31,200 employees – a total that excludes all workers at public colleges and universities, who are overseen by state-appointed boards.

The administration has not said specifically how much it expects to save from all layoffs, but estimated Monday that the initial 165 layoffs eventually would save $27.6 million per year.

The administration also announced that because of Monday’s layoffs it plans to close:

  • The Connecticut Mental Health Center’s West Haven Clinic Adult Team;
  • The Valley View Cafe and library services at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown;
  • Community recovery services, vocational services and the homeless outreach program operated by the Southeastern Mental Health Authority;
  • Transitional residential programs in Norwalk and Bridgeport;
  • The Military Department’s support, education and training programs.

Layoffs will result in reduced hours for mobile crisis programs at the Southeastern Mental Health Authority, Western Connecticut Mental Health Network and Capitol Regional Mental Health Center.

They also will require restructuring of administrative support at River Valley Services, the inpatient treatment at the Capitol Regional center, and clinical programs at the Western Connecticut network.

Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple notified workers there last week that 147 would be laid off in the coming weeks.

The governor had estimated that about 2,000 layoffs would be needed to implement the $20.3 billion budget he proposed on Feb. 3 for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

But that budget now is about $340 million out of balance, largely because of eroding state income tax revenues. An alternative budget offered last week by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee is out of balance by the same amount.

Malloy said he would issue a revised budget on Tuesday and would not rule out the prospect that this could expand the number of layoffs.

“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow” to see if it affects workforce totals, the governor said.

The administration did reach out to SEBAC to begin talks on worker concessions. Union leaders have said on several occasions that workers, who provided both wage and benefit givebacks in 2009 and 2011, would not do so this time, and that state officials should increase taxes on wealthy households and major corporations to balance the budget.

Not only are the 2016-17 budget proposals plagued with red ink, but the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis says state finances are on pace to run more than $2 billion in deficit in 2017-18 — the first new fiscal year after the November state elections.

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