HARTFORD - The 2011 General Assembly session ended Wednesday night, but one issue still remains: final approval of a crucial deal with the state employee unions.
The agreement calls for $1.6 billion in projected savings and concessions over two years - a large chunk of the state's two-year, $40 billion fiscal plan that would need to be filled with cuts and layoffs if the agreement is not ratified by the unions. With no deal, the state legislature would be forced to go back into special session to balance the budget.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reiterated his point Thursday that thousands of state employees would be laid off if the rank-and-file rejects the deal that was crafted by union leaders and the Malloy administration.
"I'm not bullying anybody," Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol. "Talking in real terms and telling people the truth is not bullying. I just want people to understand the reality."
Malloy worked closely with the labor unions during his election campaign last fall, and their help was crucial as he beat Republican Tom Foley by one half of 1 percent. He says that labor should not be blamed for the state's problems, adding that some bad decisions had clearly been made in the past.
Both Republicans and Democrats say it would make little sense for the unions to turn down the deal. Some union members, however, have spoken against the agreement by writing on blogs throughout the state.
House Republican leader Larry Cafero said the following message should be sent to the unions: "Look what we're offering you here. Grab it and run. It's the best deal going."
Rep. Steven Mikutel, a conservative Democrat from Griswold, said he was surprised about the concerns raised by some union members.
"You would think it would be a slam dunk," Mikutel said. "All hell's going to break loose if they turn down that agreement. I think they'd be crazy to turn it down. They get four years of no layoffs. Then they get 3 percent in each of the next three years. That's a pretty good deal."
Mikutel added, "If you ask the person on the street, who is not a state employee, they would tell you that's a sweet deal. Maybe that tells you how disconnected they are from the private sector. People I talk to on the outside say Malloy was not tough enough on the concessions. The union leadership is with Malloy, but there's a lot of grumbling with the rank and file."
"I'm hearing that the corrections people don't want to give in," he said. "They feel they've got a tough, stressful job and they're not appreciated."
Despite widespread reports that many prison guards were dissatisfied with the deal, Steve Curran, a correction officer who is a board member of Local 1565 of the Connecticut Corrections Employees, declined to predict the deal's chances.
"I'll have to wait for the vote," Curran said. "This vote has to be a personal vote."
Curran, who works at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, conceded that some union members were skeptical of the wellness program being pushed by the state. Union members would be required to pay an additional $100 per month if they refused to join the state's program, which will require age-appropriate tests, such as colonoscopies for those over the age of 50.
"The idea of being told to go to the doctor once a year is something we have to warm up to," said Curran, 47, who also sits on the board of AFSCME.
A rejection of the deal would prompt additional work by the legislature and consternation about changes in the now-settled budget.
"There would be some rather serious cutting, and they would have to come back in special session," said former state Rep. Michael Lawlor, a high-ranking undersecretary in Malloy's budget office.
Matt O'Connor, a spokesman for the union coalition, said that much of the voting would take place during the week of June 20, with the goal of completing the voting by Friday, June 24.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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