Without new offer, unions ask Malloy to reopen talks
State employee union leaders formally asked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday to “reconvene discussions” on labor concessions, but they have no plan to amend the voting process that sunk the first concession package last month.
The governor’s office did not reject the prospect of more talks with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, but a brief statement from Malloy only re-emphasized the administration’s stand that it was willing to clarify the old deal, not negotiate new terms.
“We would request that you or your representatives reconvene discussions as soon as possible to see what is necessary to reach an agreement that can be finalized and implemented,” Daniel Livingston, the unions’ chief negotiator, said in a letter hand delivered to Malloy at midday.
SEBAC spokesmen Larry Dorman and Matt O’Connor said the coalition has launched a review of its bylaws that ultimately could lead to revised voting rules governing contract amendments, but it has no specific assurances to offer Malloy that another concession vote would be more successful than the first one.
“There are many things that we have to address, that it’s incumbent on us to address,” Dorman said, adding though that the coalition has just begun to query its members on its voting processes. “Right now it’s important to listen to what our member unions are telling us.”
O’Connor said the unions are approaching Malloy before they have specific new offer, because the stakes are so high.
“I think it’s important that the governor knows leaders expect we are going to reach agreement” on bylaw revisions, O’Connor said. “Leaders are talking about … a number of options.”
SEBAC spokesman declined to discuss potential changes to the rules that helped sink the last concession deal even though more than half of union members who cast ballots supported it.
Coalition bylaws require 14 out of 15 member unions to support a concession package and that the total membership of the 14 unions represent at least 80 percent of all unionized state employees.
SEBAC leaders, who opted on June 27 to table formally reporting the rejection to Malloy after voting concluded that week, finally took that step on Tuesday, informing the administration that an insufficient margin, 11 out of 15 unions supported the deal.
The governor and legislature had been counting on that package to help balance state finances over the next two fiscal years. The administration estimates that deal, which included a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on health care and pension benefits, an employee wellness program and various management-labor cost-saving committees, would save $700 million this fiscal year and $901 million in 2012-13.
Since the apparent rejection in late June, lawmakers have expanded Malloy’s emergency budget-cutting authority and the governor also has crafted tentative plans that call for nearly 6,700 layoffs as well as elimination of about 1,000 vacant posts.
The governor’s budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, has given department heads the opportunity to propose substitute cost-cutting plans this week. But those are expected only to modestly shrink or increase the number of planned jobs cuts, not eliminate the need for them altogether.
The administration already has announced plans to close the Bergin Correctional Center in Mansfield and layoff notices are expected to go out to unionized employees later this month, though many workers would not leave their jobs until late August.
Malloy has said that while he wants to avoid layoffs, he is determined to balance the new $20.14 billion budget for the fiscal year that began last Friday, and that he won’t renegotiate the rejected concession deal that took months to craft earlier this year.
Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan issued a brief written statement that left open at least one door to more discussions.
“The Governor has said all along he’s happy to clarify the language of the agreement if that will allow it to be ratified,” she wrote.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said with this new plea from the labor leaders, he’s convinced the Democratic governor somehow will find himself back at the bargaining table.
“Here we go again, another, ‘let’s wait around and see.’ The whole state is at the mercy of state employees,” said Cafero. “That process has come and gone. … This delay has already thrown the state in chaos.”
But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said it may be necessary to give the unions a few more weeks to come up with some plausible alternatives to laying off thousands of state workers.
“There should be the opportunity for employees to reconsider their prior vote,” he said, but added he doesn’t see the tenets of the original deal being reconsidered. “I don’t see how there could be any substantial changes.”
“They need to find a way to ratify the previously negotiated deal,” he added.
Dorman agreed that time was running short.
“I don’t think anyone here has the luxury of time,” he said.
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