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Gov. Dannel Malloy Makes Tough Demands on Connecticut's Unions

Behind closed doors...

By Gregory B. Hladky

March 08, 2011

Connecticut's unions seem to have entered a political wonderland where success and disaster can look strangely alike.

They poured heart and soul into last year's campaigns and elected the first Democratic governor in decades. Their boy, Dannel Malloy, supports bedrock labor stuff like mandated paid sick days and he defends collective bargaining rights for public employees in an era when those rights are under fire.

This same dude that labor helped put in office is also demanding $2 billion in state union concessions over two years and issuing warnings about “unimaginable” consequences if he doesn't get them.

Malloy warned union leaders last week that those consequences could include savage budget cuts, thousands of layoffs, and would very probably end any dreams he had of getting elected to a second term. He pointed out he's already proposing tax increases of $1.5 billion to help solve a $3.5 billion budget crisis, and that it's the union's turn to share the pain.

Labor leaders like John Olsen, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, argue that “It's not fair to look for one-third of the solution among 45,000 state employees.”

One liberal Connecticut politician, who would only comment if his name wasn't used, says some state workers now use the term “betrayal” to describe Malloy's demands, while others wait to see what kind of a deal results from closed-door talks.

This peculiar Connecticut scenario plays out against a backdrop of a conservative anti-public union campaign and a national decline in the membership and political influence of organized labor as a whole.

In the 1940s, more than one-third of the American workforce belonged to unions. By 1998, union membership was less than 14 percent. A new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the number of union members in the U.S. last year at 11.9 percent of all wage and salary employees.

Connecticut has the highest rate of union membership in New England with 16.7 percent of its workforce belonging to organized labor. “We're fifth in the nation in percentage,” says Olsen.

Malloy was well aware of that fact as he courted the union vote in 2010, and there are plenty of politicians who will tell you he wouldn't have won what turned out to be one of the closest gubernatorial elections in history without union support.

“They helped elect Dannel Malloy, they helped elect a Democratic congressional ticket, and they helped elect a Democratic legislature,” says state Republican Chairman Chris Healy, who argues that public sector collective bargaining in Connecticut needs dramatic reforms. He says federal employees don't have those kinds of rights and that state and local public workers in Connecticut don't need them either.

One reason often given for the decline in union membership is that many of organized labor's original goals have long been achieved, whether it was child labor prohibitions, the eight-hour day, minimum wage, unemployment compensation or a score of other rights and protections now provided by state and federal law.

State Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, was a union member for 40 years until he retired. He thinks people should recall labor's role in getting all those rights. “Without unions, everybody's situation would be going down the drain,” he says.

The paid sick leave bill is another of those proposed protections. Legislation to require employers of 50 or more workers to offer paid sick leave squeaked through the legislature's Labor Committee last week.

The bill's fate is far from certain, with some state senate Democrats wavering. Malloy “obviously supports the concept,” says his spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan, adding the governor isn't committing himself to signing the measure until he sees what the legislature may actually send him.

Could this “pro-labor” governor, who says his administration is all about creating jobs, be backing away from the paid sick leave bill while negotiating for huge state union give-backs?

“Curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice would say.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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