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.