Lori J. Pelletier, president of the AFL-CIO ctmirror.org
Lori J. Pelletier, president of the AFL-CIO ctmirror.org

Connecticut’s top labor official questioned publicly Thursday whether the state’s new fiscal sustainability study panel is biased in favor of business and against labor.

AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier noted the state’s chief business lobby is urging legislators to adopt the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth’s recommendations “that reform state pensions and collective bargaining” —  before any conclusions have been announced.

CBIA officials have said they are hopeful the panel will recommend changes in these areas that help state and municipal governments curb labor costs.

“It appears the fix is in,” said Pelletier, referring to statements made by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which released its agenda this week for the 2018 General Assembly session. “We can’t help but wonder if the business lobby has some inside track and knows the recommendations have already been decided.”

Pelletier, whose organization represents more than 200,000 workers in Connecticut, noted that the study panel hasn’t even finished hearing testimony yet. The commission, which was created by the legislature last October, must submit its report to lawmakers by March 1.

Labor leaders have been openly skeptical about the commission, which is being co-chaired by two prominent business leaders: health-care entrepreneur Robert Patricelli of Simsbury and Webster Bank’s chairman and former chief executive officer, James Smith of Middlebury.

Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth co-chairs Jim Smith, left, and Robert Patricelli Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org file photo

The co-chairmen issued a joint statement Thursday saying the panel has decided nothing yet.

“The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth is still in the process of fact-finding and analysis in order to fully develop its recommendations,” Patricelli and Smith said. “While the Commission has heard testimony on many important subjects, it would be premature for any group to speculate on positions the commission may take.”

Union leaders have noted they weren’t invited to testify before the group, which heard early on from the CBIA, the conservative Yankee Institute for Public Policy think tank, and municipal lobbying groups that urged new limits on binding arbitration and collective bargaining.

But the commission did not issue specific invitations to groups, and officials say any organization that approached the panel has been allowed to testify. It also has heard testimony from several progressive policy groups, including Connecticut Voices for Children and 1000 Friends of Connecticut.

Besides Pelletier, other labor leaders scheduled to testify at 12 p.m. Friday in the Legislative Office Building include: Salvatore Luciano, executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Hartford attorney Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition; and Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Donald Williams.

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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