Could the legislature’s failure to cancel raises for state judges discourage unionized state employees from granting wage and benefit concessions?
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed concerns this past week, and the head of the court marshals union said Friday that the governor could be right.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Chase Rogers — who reminded legislators earlier this week that the easiest way to cancel the raises was to act before they kick in on Saturday — reached out to other Judicial Branch employees Friday, saying she still expects the pay hikes eventually to be canceled.
At issue is the last in a series of four judicial pay hikes ordered by the General Assembly four years ago.
Lawmakers ordered 3 percent annual wage hikes effective July 1 of 2013 through 2016.
But the fourth and final increase later was deferred from 2016 to July 1 of this year.
This wage hike would apply to 178 judges, 25 senior judges and 81 judge trial referees.
With analysts projecting major state budget deficits of $2.3 billion and $2.8 billion in the next two fiscal years, respectively, Malloy negotiated a tentative concessions agreement with union leaders designed to save $1.57 billion over the coming biennium.
With legislators gridlocked on how to solve that deficit, Malloy tried unsuccessfully to convince them this past week to adopt a provisional, three-month budget to mitigate the major cuts he would be forced to make to social services, hospitals and town aid absent a new budget on July 1.
That “mini-budget” also canceled the raises for judges and trial referees, a step the governor said was based on simple fairness.
“There are judicial branch unions that have to vote on this, and imagine how you would feel about voting on that agreement in a context of which other people are receiving $400-a-month raises,” the governor said. “I think it’s a tough signal to send.”
Malloy added that, “I couldn’t blame them for being angry. I hope they will do the right thing” and approve the concessions.
Rank-and-file union workers will vote in mid-July on a package that includes a three-year wage freeze as well as higher healthcare costs, larger pension contributions and new retirement benefit restrictions.
Joe Gaetano, who is president of the 600-member judicial marshals’ union, Local 731 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said 3 percent raises for judges “would definitely be frustrating for people” being asked to grant concessions.
“It should be a shared sacrifice and it can’t be if the highest paid people in the branch are getting a 3 percent raise,” Gaetano said. “It would be a real injustice for this to go through.”
The union leader added that, “I’m hopeful that the legislature will stand up and do their job and pass a mini-budget” which would cancel those raises.
The chief justice reached out to legislative leaders this past week and reminded them that the easiest way to cancel the raises was to do so before July 1, because of the legal and logistical challenges of reversing pay increases retroactively.
Rogers also reached out to non-judge branch employees Friday through an email.
“As you know, the legislature recessed last evening without taking any action on a budget, or “mini-budget,” for the fiscal year commencing July 1, 2017,” she wrote. “One of the consequences of the legislature’s failure to do so, is that the judges’ pay raise that the legislature had intended to defer, will now go into effect tomorrow. The Governor and General Assembly have been clear that they plan to defer this raise, due to the current budget crisis. We have been informed that the General Assembly intends to rescind the raise through legislation as soon as a budget agreement is reached.”
Based upon the 3 percent increase, some of the salary changes include:
- $200,000 to $206,617 for the Supreme Court chief justice;
- $192,763 to $198,545 for the chief court administrator;
- $185,610 to $191,178 for the Supreme Court associate justices;
- $174,323 to $179,552 for the Appellate Court judges;
- And $167,634 to $172,663 for Superior Court judges.