After two days of leaks and speculation, state employee union leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy struck a tentative framework to recommend a $1.5 billion concessions framework to member bargaining units.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, comprised of representatives of all worker unions, voted to engage in formal discussions with the Malloy administration — a legal prerequisite to any tentative deal.
The governor’s office announced the tentative framework Tuesday evening.
Unions also began to notify their members Tuesday through posts on the bargaining units’ websites. And at least one union estimated concessions wouldn’t be voted upon until mid-July, about two weeks after the next fiscal year has begun.
“Our current economic reality requires that we revisit and redefine the state’s relationship with employees and I want to thank the leaders of our state employee unions,” Malloy wrote in a statement. “Over the past several months, we have been respectfully meeting together in good faith to discuss ways to help save taxpayer dollars while respecting the contract under which state employees are currently operating. This framework will surely create more affordable and more sustainable labor costs in a way that generates structural, long-term savings of over $20 billion over the course of the next two decades.”
“This framework and potential savings are a clear example of why collective bargaining is so imperative for our state,” wrote SEIU 1199 New England, the state’s largest healthcare workers’ union. “Without collective bargaining, the billions of dollars in savings would not have been realized. This was an important first step as middle-class workers are doing their part to help solve the budget deficit. Now is the time for legislators to ask the same of the state’s most wealthy and billion dollar corporations.”
“We have voted to move forward with formal negotiations, based on an agreed-upon framework for providing job security and protecting benefits for members, while producing cost savings for taxpayers,” said Salvatore Luciano, executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the largest state employee unions.
“This is about defending your rights to collective bargaining and maintaining our historic role as advocates for the American middle class in these uncertain times,” said Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut.
The proposed framework reportedly would save the state $708 million next fiscal year and $845 million in 2018-19 — nearly matching the $1.57 billion, two-year savings target Malloy set in February.
The plan would freeze wages for each of the next two fiscal years. Employees, most of whom are working this fiscal year under contracts that expired last June, also would forfeit any retroactive pay hike.
The cumulative three-year wage freeze would provide nearly half of the total projected savings. Workers would receive 3.5 percent base pay hikes in 2020 and in 2021, and also would be eligible for step increases.
Workers would be required to take three furlough days.
The framework also would double pension contributions for most workers, create a hybrid pension/defined-contribution plan for future workers, increase health care co-payments and premiums, require active workers to contribute more toward their retirement health care benefit, and curtail health care benefits for existing retirees.
In return for these concessions, the state would extend its worker benefits contract — which otherwise would expire in 2022 — until 2027. Unions that grant wage concessions also would be largely exempt from layoffs through the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Those last two provisions, though, remains a huge point of contention. While Malloy’s fellow Democrats in House and Senate leadership praised the deal, the top Republicans particularly were skeptical about whether the concessions’ value was sufficient to offset the five-year extension.
Connecticut has one of the worst-funded public-sector retirement benefit programs in the nation, and some have argued the state should allow the contract to expire and then dramatically curtail benefits after that.
A&R union: Final vote not expected until mid-July
While some lawmakers estimated a vote could happen in late June, the Administrative and Residual Employees Union posted on its website that “Expected timeframe for a membership ratification vote is mid-July.”
Union leaders are expected to take several weeks to discuss the concessions plan with rank-and-file workers.
“Read this document,” the A&R union post states. “Discuss it with your colleagues. Call us and ask questions. Email us your questions. We will be conducting member meetings to address you directly. We shall publish information for FAQs. We will do all it takes to inform you. We need an informed membership to participate in the upcoming ratification vote. Every member gets to vote.”
The A&R union represents about 3,000 state accountants, and other fiscal and legal professionals.