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Four unions voted down the concessions contract

By JC Reindl

Publication: The Day

Published June 27. 2011 4:00AM   Updated June 27. 2011 4:20PM

Hartford - It was only last month that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic lawmakers applauded themselves for having passed a "balanced" and gimmick-free budget so early in the legislative session.

On Thursday, they'll attempt to rebalance it with only hours to spare before a fiscal deadline.

The striking turnabout resulted from last week's ratification failure of a labor concessions agreement between the governor and unions representing about 45,000 state employees. While the deal gained the support of a majority of members, it didn't reach the supermajority threshold - 80 percent of voting members, no more than one union's rejection - that was needed to pass.

On Sunday night, The Day obtained final unofficial results of the union vote, which showed 11 of the 15 unions voted for the agreement, and four unions voted it down. Fifty seven percent of the participating members voted yes. Of the 34 bargaining units within those unions, 26 voted in favor of the agreement.

The agreement, worth $1.6 billion in savings over two years, was critical to Connecticut's new $40.1 billion biennial budget that starts Friday, July 1, and was to close a $3.3 billion deficit.

In addition to a two-year wage freeze followed by three years of 3 percent wage increases, it guaranteed no layoffs for four years and made numerous adjustments to a 20-year contract for pension and health care benefits that was signed in 1997 by former Gov. John G. Rowland.

The moment ratification collapsed, the budget acquired a gaping $1.6 billion hole.

Malloy, a Democrat, responded by calling a special session of the legislature, directing all General Assembly members back to Hartford on Thursday to vote on his "Plan B" for bridging the new gap without the unions' help. The session will occur on the final day of the current fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the governor says he is moving forward this week with issuing 7,500 layoff notices to state employees. "Every day that we delay will increase the number of layoffs that have to take place," he told reporters Friday.

Officials with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the 15 state unions, called on Malloy to hold back the pink slips.

"Issuing layoffs now is the wrong choice," said SEBAC spokesman Matt O'Connor. "We will do everything in our power to fight job cuts."

SEBAC leaders are scheduled to meet this morning to cast their own final votes on the failed concessions package and determine how to proceed. Union representatives have been reluctant to discuss the possibility of a revote, or if it's possible to change the coalition bylaws to lower the threshold for labor agreements to pass.

"We don't want to see mass layoffs," Larry Dorman, another SEBAC spokesman, said Friday. "But we also do have to respect the democratic will of our members" in voting down the deal.

Malloy is also seeking greater rescission authority from the General Assembly that would allow him to make bigger cuts to the budget without legislative approval. Rowland was temporarily granted similar powers by the legislature during a budget crunch nine years ago.

Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, seemed ready to help grant Malloy the authority. Senate Democrats were scheduled to caucus by phone over the weekend.

"Given the rejection of the labor agreement, it's critical that we act decisively before the beginning of the new fiscal year," Williams said in a statement. "We support the governor's call to action and will work with him to ensure that Connecticut has a balanced budget."

But the GOP is less willing to hand him the authority.

"Rescission powers exist to deal with fiscal emergencies that arise after a balanced budget has been passed, not before," Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Friday. "Republicans also believe Thursday's special session is an opportunity to begin addressing our state's long-term pension and health care liabilities."

As for his new plan to slim the budget, Malloy has said that "all options are on the table" except for new, additional tax increases or diverting surplus funds. The budget already contains the largest tax increase in Connecticut in 20 years, with new income tax rates that will be retroactive to Jan. 1.

"I have a big job to do and we're going to do it," the first-term governor told reporters Friday.

Malloy warned of future state aid cuts to Connecticut's 169 cities and towns - an unnerving prospect for local governments, which have already passed their own budgets.

The governor has yet to say how large those reductions will be, but promised to limit their size in the first year of the budget, which begins Friday.

"I will do everything in my power to avoid serious, damaging cuts to municipal governments," he said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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