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 Concessions announcement

Union representatives at a press conference announcing the ratification of a concessions agreement with the state.

Photo: Mark Pazniokas  ctmirror.org

 

By, Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas  ctmirror.org

HARTFORD:  Unionized state employees have voted overwhelmingly to ratify the concession deal negotiated by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, shifting the focus to a closely divided General Assembly, where Republicans say they will attempt to reject an agreement worth an estimated $1.57 billion over two years.

The State Employees Bargain Agent Coalition announced late Tuesday morning that more than 80 percent of the votes cast were in favor of accepting concessions that will freeze wages and increase contributions for health and pensions.

Union leaders reported vote tallies late Monday to the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and were scheduled to announce the results at 11 a.m. Representatives of the coalition declined comment.

Bargaining units representing state police troopers and assistant attorneys general did not vote on the wage concessions.

Wage agreements are decided on a unit-by-unit basis. Those that agreed to the three-year pay freeze and three furlough days per worker the governor sought would be exempted from layoffs for the next four years.

Concessions involving health coverage, pensions and other benefits are decided collectively by the 16-union labor coalition, and the changes would affect all of the roughly 46,000 unionized state employees — if the deal is ratified by the legislature.

The agreement would double pension contributions for most workers, create a hybrid pension/defined-contribution plan for future employees, increase health care co-payments and premiums and require active workers to contribute more toward their retirement health care benefits. In return, the contract guaranteeing these benefits would be extended for five years, pushing its expiration date from June 30, 2022, to mid-2027.

The House and Senate Republican leaders have criticized the extension, noting that even with the concessions, state government still would not save enough annually to cover the full cost of all retirement benefits promised to present-day workers — leaving some expenses to be covered by future taxpayers.

Wage concessions were expected to provide nearly half of the $701 million in savings the full concessions plan reportedly was worth this fiscal year, and 42 percent of the $869 million total in 2018-19.

Building support for concessions ‘was not easy’

“This was not easy,” Salvatore Luciano, executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — the largest state employee union — said of the near-unanimous vote. “We hoped if we explained it, everyone would pass it.”

All 33 of the bargaining units that cast ballots on wage-related concessions endorsed the deal. Units representing state police and assistant attorneys general did not vote on wage givebacks.

Fifteen of the 16 parent unions within the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition endorsed the benefits-related concessions.

The sixteenth, the Connecticut State Police Union, belongs to SEBAC but currently is not a dues-paying member in good standing, so its ballots on benefits concessions were not counted.

Lori J. Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said it should come as no surprise that workers, who also granted wage and benefit concessions in 2009 and in 2011, did so again.

“These are people who provide services to the state, but they also are taxpayers,” she said. “Employees were presented with a problem and asked to chip in — again — and help to fix it, and they did.”

Both Pelletier and Luciano cautioned, though, that the overwhelming vote for concessions — conducted over the past two weeks — should not be viewed as a sign that labor is pleased with all policies at the state Capitol.

Unions’ calls for a more progressive income tax largely have been rebuffed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and most legislators this year.

Labor leaders also expressed frustration over the past year at approximately $80 million in state grants, loans and tax incentives provided to two Fairfield County hedge funds.

And some union officials said workers were dismayed when the legislature failed to cancel raises for state judges on July 1.

“Some of the people we talked to were disappointed” by these decisions, Luciano said.

The concessions vote does not reflect union approval of these policy choices, Pelletier said. “I don’t think one thing has anything to do with the other,” she said.

 

aersimowicz and ritter
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, left, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter keeping sales tax increase on the table. 

Sales Tax Hike Remains In Play As CT Budget Talks Drag On

By Keith Phaneuf  ctmirror.com

Hartford: As legislators struggle to find enough spending cuts to offset a major projected deficit, House Democrats continue to talk about increasing one of the state’s two major taxes — the sales levy.

But while House Democratic leaders acknowledged Thursday that hiking the sales tax rate to 6.99 percent was discussed in a closed-door meeting of caucus members, they also said this would only be considered to mitigate deep and painful cuts proposed for municipal aid.

alexionnBy Mitchell Young

Former Democratic Governor Ella Grasso famously made a home cooked meal for Miles Laboratories, [Bayer Pharmaceuticals] executives to woo them to West Haven.

Times and the people of Connecticut have changed.

Bayer would eventually leave, and a $60 million incentive package proposal by the Rell Administration was not enough to change their consolidation plans after a merger.

Lieberman Joe March 2012 336x224By Ana Radelat ctmirror.com

Trump Picks Lieberman Associate Kasowitz As Personal Lawyer In Russia Probe

Washington – President Donald Trump’s decision to hire attorney Marc Kasowitz to serve as his private lawyer during federal and congressional Russia probes has dimmed former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s chances of becoming the next FBI chief.

Kasowitz, a New York attorney who has represented Trump in legal matters before, is the senior partner in the Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm that hired Lieberman after he retired from the Senate in 2013. Fox Business and ABC were the first to report Kasowitz’s hiring on Tuesday afternoon.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democrats, who are opposed to having Lieberman replace ousted FBI director James Comey, had already grumbled about the connection between Lieberman, Kasowitz and Trump.

Kasowitz’s representation of Trump during the Russia probe would be likely to pose a conflict of interest if Lieberman were head of the FBI.

Trump last week said Lieberman was a front-runner for the FBI job. But that was before Senate Democrats made clear they would oppose the nomination, which has also been rejected by American civil liberties groups.

Trump’s comments about Lieberman also were made before his decision to hire an outside counsel.

News that Kasowitz was chosen to represent the president during investigations into links between Moscow and Trump associates by special counsel Robert Mueller and four congressional committees came after former CIA Director John Brennan testified about those links Tuesday.

Brennan said he became concerned last year that the Russian government was trying to influence members of the Trump campaign to act, perhaps unwittingly, on Moscow’s behalf.

“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,”  Brennan told members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Malloy CROPBy KEITH M. PHANEUF ctmirror.com

Hartford: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state employee unions stand on the cusp of a concessions deal worth close to $1.6 billion over the next two fiscal years, sources close to the talks said.

The agreement features a three-year wage freeze retroactive to the 2016-17 fiscal year. It also would boost pension and health insurance costs for workers and would include fewer than five furlough days.

But it also would extend the controversial state benefits contract with its employees through 2027 — a provision expected to draw criticism from many Republican legislators and some business groups. That provision also largely would remove a contentious issue from the 2022 gubernatorial debate.

Technically, the unions and administration have been engaged in informal talks. Union leaders are expected to meet Monday afternoon to talk about authorizing negotiators  as soon as Tuesday to strike a tentative agreement that could be submitted to the rank and file for a ratification vote.

Malloy, his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly, and Republican legislators all relied on concessions savings to help balance their respective plans for the next two-year state budget.

The governor and Democratic lawmakers both seek savings worth about $700 million in the first year of the coming biennium and $870 million in the second. Sources say the potential deal Malloy and unions are closing in on would be worth close to those amounts.

But separate plans produced by the House and Senate Republicans each count on annual savings closer to $1.1 billion.

State would extend benefits commitment until 2027

The duration of the benefits package offered to state workers has been a point of contention since 1997, when Gov. John G. Rowland and unions struck a 20-year deal.

Many critics have argued the pension and retirement health care components of that deal are too generous, and that it must be allowed to expire so the state can offer alternatives, such as a 401(k)-style, defined contribution plan.

Malloy’s 2011 deal with unions extended the benefits contract through 2022 in exchange for a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on retirement benefits, increased worker cost-sharing, and an employee wellness plan.

But as surging retirement benefit costs place even more pressure on state finances, some groups came forward recently to urge that any new concessions deal not extend the benefits contract further.

The contract’s existing expiration date of June 30, 2022 would fall in year four of the next gubernatorial term, and candidates for the office would be expected to take a position in the coming months on whether to extend it further.

But if the unions and the state push the expiration date back to 2027, it could not be changed without labor’s permission for another nine years — removing the issue from the next two gubernatorial terms.

Malloy and the unions also have made it clear that state government cannot expect major concessions without extending the benefits deal.

“We are not starting from scratch when we revisit the SEBAC (State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition) contract,” Malloy told legislators on Feb. 8 in his annual budget address. “While it is fair for us to ask for savings, it’s equally fair for our employees to also ask for changes as long as the end result is a more affordable and more sustainable labor agreement.”

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — one of the largest state employee unions — wrote in a recent post on its website that extending the benefits deal was a key priority.

As a union we are working our hardest to avoid layoffs, service cuts and reductions to our pay, pensions and health care. We certainly have not been dragging our feet,” the statement reads. “Throughout the process, we have been guided by several important principles, including the need to secure protections against layoffs and contracting out, to offset the impact of wage freezes, and to extend the current health care and pension agreement.

“Our goal is not simply to protect our members’ jobs and services, but also to prevent an economic disaster that would inevitably result from layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and the loss of bargaining rights.”

govbannerDemocrats would slash municipal aid, allow casino, legalize pot

By Keith M. Phaneuf ctmirror.com

Hartford: House and Senate Democrats Tuesday recommended opening a new casino, legalizing marijuana and imposing deep cuts to municipal aid and public colleges and universities to balance the next two-year state budget.

And while their plan begins the process of establishing tolls in future years, it strips transportation reserves in the short term while selling 35 acres in Hartford along the elevated Interstate 84 highway to keep the state’s transportation program afloat.

The Democratic plan consolidates several departments, retains but reduces the public financing program for state elections and closes an unnamed prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Southbury Training School.