University of Connecticut campus in Storrs CT Mirror (file photo)
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

After nudging legislators to reject a labor deal granting raises at the University of Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave them a hard push Wednesday, publicly urging rejection of a contract the university negotiated with its Professional Employees Union.

“We must value and support those that serve the public,” Malloy wrote in a statement. “This contract was negotiated in good faith, and I appreciate the work of UConn and UCPEA. At the same time, agreements negotiated between labor and management must reflect our new economic reality. This contract, which was negotiated last year, does not.”

The leaders of the Senate Democratic majority quickly agreed with the governor, an indication the Senate is prepared to formally reject the contract, which covers nearly 1,900 non-teaching professionals at UConn.

“We are afraid that, if approved, the contract will lead to massive layoffs and painful tuition increases, forcing talented Connecticut students out of state,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven and Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk in a joint statement.

The president of the affected union said the state is undermining good-faith negotiations.

“We’re disappointed that the collective bargaining process is not being honored by the governor,” said Kathleen Sanner, the union president. “The focus of the governor and some state representatives is a misdirection of the facts on a fairly negotiated agreement between UCPEA and the university.”

Sanner noted that the state budget’s block grant to UConn provides only about 30 percent of the university’s annual operating costs. “To suggest that this contract will increase costs to taxpayers is simply wrong,” she said.

State officials also had expressed fears that the university budget could not afford the contract, and that this could lead to tuition hikes or layoffs.

Malloy’s call also drew a strong response other state labor leaders.

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees doesn’t represent the UConn non-teaching professionals, but is one of state government’s largest unions. Executive Director Sal Luciano said the governor’s approach was wrong.

“It’s troubling to see that the governor’s vision of a ‘new economic reality’ translates into cutting the pay and benefits of state workers –- which amounts to a special tax on middle class and working class state employees — and threatening deep cuts to the vital services they provide,” Luciano said. “Our AFSCME members are not setting up tax shelters overseas or establishing multi-state corporations. They are helping to keep the local economy moving with their consumer spending and support of local businesses. We can be a state that’s friendly to hedge fund managers or a state that’s friendly to the middle class, but we can’t be both.”

“The contract between UCPEA and UConn was negotiated in good faith by both sides,” added Lori Pelletier, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “Workers and management sat at the table for weeks working out the details of this contract. Gov. Malloy and the legislature should honor the collecting bargaining process that produced this mutual agreement and not let politics get in the way of doing the right thing.”

“If elected leaders truly value and support the collaboration between labor and management that produced this agreement they should honor this negotiated settlement,” said Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut, which is affiliated with the UConn union. “Failing to do so would not just disrespect collective bargaining; it threatens to upturn the labor-management relationship in state service going forward.”

The governor’s request comes after the Appropriations Committee declined last week to vote to reject the contract, which was widely seen as a test of legislators’ willingness to cut costs. Until Wednesday, the governor had stopped just short of asking his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority to reject the UConn contract.

The deal would cost the state an estimated $94 million over the next five fiscal years combined.

The governor also has said legislators should vote on every employee contract and arbitration award, rather than relying on a default option in legislative rules that allows these agreements to be ratified through inaction.

But Malloy never explicitly said to reject the deal until now.

“It would set a precedent that would necessitate the elimination of even more jobs,” the governor said. “I urge the General Assembly to reject this contract, and respectfully ask that UConn and UCPEA return to the bargaining table.”

Sources say Senate Democrats, who have been anticipating Wednesday’s request from the governor, are considering a vote on the contract next week. A proposed contract or arbitration award can be rejected by a vote of one chamber of the General Assembly.

Benjamin Barnes, the governor’s budget chief, warned in an analysis Wednesday that the deal is “far too costly given the extraordinary fiscal circumstances of the state today.”

Barnes estimated that, should other state unions pursue and receive comparable raises, it could add about $1 billion in aggregate costs to the state budget over the next five years.

Barnes also raised a new issue with the package: It conflicts both with the administration’s policy of not paying retirement incentives and with a portion of the umbrella benefits contract the state has with all of its employee unions.

The contract specifically includes a “phased-retirement plan” that allows members of the UConn union to reduce their work schedule for up to three years before retirement, while earning full retirement benefits during that period.

And even though a reduced work schedule would mean less pay, the ability to earn full retirement benefits while working a lighter schedule “is viewed as a retirement incentive” by the budget office, Barnes wrote.

The budget director added that state law stipulates this type of retirement benefit can be negotiated only by the executive branch and by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, and not by UConn and its Professional Employees Association.

Sanner responded that the association believes this issue could be resolved without the legislature having to set aside the contract.

Tom Breen, a spokesman for UConn, offered a measured reaction, defending the terms of the deal, yet stopping short of urging the legislature to ignore the governor’s request.

“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,” Breen said.

Republican legislative leaders have argued for the contract’s rejection since it was presented to the Appropriations Committee.

“There is no money for this contract or any other salary hike,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “If the majority-party Democrats allow this to become law without a vote, that means they support the salary increase.”

“I’m extremely supportive of the governor echoing Republican calls to hold a vote on this contract,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “I’m also glad Senate Democrats are finally listening to our call for action, but it’s still unsettling that it took them this long to make a decision that was so obvious to everyone else.”

The Malloy administration is in negotiations with more than a dozen bargaining units, whose existing contracts expire in June. Opponents of the raises for UConn staff said they would make it more difficult to achieve wage savings in talks with other unions.

Earlier this week the governor canceled 3 percent pay raises for nearly 2,000 non-union, executive branch managers and appointed staff.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Connecticut not to move forward with managerial raises at a time when so many state programs will see reductions and while so many state jobs are likely to be eliminated,” Barnes and Brian Durand, the governor’s chief of staff, wrote agency leaders Monday afternoon.

Legislators were stunned last week when nonpartisan fiscal analysts downgraded projected state income tax receipts dramatically for both this fiscal year and next.

The current fiscal year is anywhere from $220 million to $266 million in the red — a relatively modest shortfall of less than 1.5 percent.

But much bigger problems loom just over the horizon.

The original budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year — which was adopted last June — saw its built-in deficit swell from about $550 million to $900 million.

Malloy affirmed earlier this week his intention to rebalance the 2016-17 budget exclusively with spending cuts. And while he didn’t mention “layoffs” specifically, the governor also said, “State government’s going to get substantially smaller in the not-too-distant future.”

Democratic leaders of the House have been noncommittal since last week when the Appropriations Committee sent a mixed message about the UConn contract on Feb. 23.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, repeated concerns Wednesday he had voiced earlier about the cost of the deal, but still didn’t say whether the House would vote on the agreement.

“We all understand the state’s current fiscal reality, and the governor is now echoing the same concerns I’ve expressed, and have also heard from many legislators,” Sharkey said. “Unfortunately, UConn seems to have negotiated this contract without considering the state’s overall budget challenges, and the only way to pay for it is through more taxpayer dollars, tuition hikes or layoffs, which are not good solutions.”

The speaker also indicated that the governor, who controls most of the appointments to UConn’s Board of Trustees, could have spoken up sooner.

“I appreciate the governor’s input, and only wish he had sounded the alarm with UConn administrators before this contract was agreed to,” Sharkey said.

Fasano called Sharkey’s position “completely mindboggling” given the state’s fiscal problems.

“This contract will place more financial burdens on students and taxpayers, and is setting up our state for more layoffs,” Fasano said. “The real problem is that the hesitancy of Democrats makes me very worried that they don’t have the stomachs to handle much tougher decisions on the horizon.”

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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