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    Tuesday, May 30, 2023

    State union leaders seek a do-over

    Hartford - As the Malloy administration handed more pink slips to state workers Wednesday, the leaders of their unions planned to vote early next week to change their bylaws in the hope of renegotiating with the governor.

    But it's unclear how willing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be to negotiate a do-over concessions deal after the rank-and-file turned down an agreement last month worth $1.6 billion to state government over two years.

    Malloy released a list showing that 328 union and nonunion workers have been issued layoff notices as of Wednesday morning in the first wave of his Plan B for balancing the new state budget without labor concessions.

    By day's end, 56 state troopers also had received notice they will be laid off in six weeks, according to Lt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman.

    "The administration is progressing forward as if there is not going to be an agreement," said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser.

    Occhiogrosso declined to speculate whether Malloy would offer the 15 state unions a second chance at ratifying a layoff-averting concessions deal, if they decide to loosen the strict bylaws that doomed the first agreement. The unions represent about 45,000 state workers.

    The 15 leaders of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition are scheduled to vote Monday on changing their bylaws for future labor agreements, according to one union president. The coalition has ruled out any retroactive changes that could affect the outcome of last month's failed ratification.

    The concessions agreement reached in May between the Malloy administration and union leaders fell apart because only 11 of the 15 unions and 57 percent of members voted for it. For an agreement to pass under the coalition's bylaws, 80 percent of union members must vote for it and no more than one union can vote no.

    As to the possibility of a rewrite of the bylaws, Occhiogrosso said, "That's a series of things that haven't happened yet, and if it happens, then we'll deal with it at that point."

    Union representatives remain hopeful for a new agreement. Malloy recently had his chief labor negotiator meet with union leaders.

    "The administration has allowed the lines of communication to reopen, and I think that's a recognition that we can get there," coalition spokesman Matt O'Connor said Wednesday night.

    The Malloy administration has yet to confirm the total number of forthcoming layoffs, previously estimated at 6,500. The governor recently said that layoffs would be "full blown" by Friday. Yet the process of notifying everyone could take weeks.

    "You should expect many more hundreds over the coming days," Benjamin Barnes, the governor's budget chief, told reporters. "The 6,500 number was an estimate early on; it may not be that number."

    One union president wrote a letter to members of her Administrative and Residual Union, informing them that the coalition's leaders will vote Monday on bylaws changes. Her letter did not say the type of changes proposed.

    "The most important challenge we face is keeping all of our fellow workers employed," Laila Mandour wrote. "With that in mind, I remain confident that we will come to a positive resolution."

    Malloy developed a Plan B involving large-scale layoffs after the May agreement died. The budget-cutting scheme cuts $700 million in the first year of the state's new $40.5 billion biennial budget and $900 million in the second year.

    Administration officials say they will release additional details about layoffs and budget cuts today. The governor is required to submit his plan to Democratic leaders of the legislature by Friday, although lawmakers do not have to vote on it.

    Vance said the 56 troopers being let go are from the most recent graduating class. The force will be down to 1,070 troopers once the layoffs take effect Aug. 24, he said, and personnel will be moved around to make up for the losses.

    As of Wednesday morning, the Department of Correction had lost 222 positions under the layoffs plan, including 191 correction officers and 13 supervisors. Two state facilities, the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield and the Enfield Correctional Institution in Enfield, are scheduled to close this year.

    Some union officials for the correction officers have criticized the layoffs and closings, warning of prison overcrowding and even riots because of low inmate-to-guard ratios.

    However, Malloy said this week that the reductions have "nothing to do with the budget," and were instead prompted by Connecticut's decreasing inmate population. There were 17,631 people incarcerated in the state's prisons on July 1, down from 19,216 on July 1, 2003, according to Department of Correction figures.

    Correction officers overwhelmingly voted no last month on the concessions deal.

    Luke Leone, president of AFSCME Local 1565, which represents correction officers from several prisons, including Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, York Correctional Institution and the York Annex, both in Niantic, said the layoff notices issued so far affect officers up north.

    Leone said that about six or seven officers from the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center received pink slips, but the majority come from Osborn Correctional Institution and Northern Correctional Institution - both in Somers - and the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield.

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