Bronin separates himself from field in eschewing labor loyalty

Cozying up to organized labor might help a Democratic candidate for governor get enough votes at next month’s party convention to qualify for the primary. It might even help in the primary. But it could prove to be an anchor that sinks the chance of a general election victory in November.

Labor unions are becoming synonymous with public labor unions. As the number of workers in private-sector unions shrinks, public union membership perseveres and even grows.

When the Yankee Institute, a conservative advocacy group in Connecticut, examined the numbers a couple of years ago, it noted that Connecticut ranked fourth in the nation for the percent of union members who work for government. State or local governments in Connecticut employ about six in 10 union workers.

Connecticut’s public unions have done well by their members. Connecticut public employees effectively make 25 percent more than their counterparts in private industry. The difference is largely attributable to far superior employee benefit packages, according to a study by Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has had some success renegotiating union contracts and ratcheting down pension and benefit costs, but there is no way to restore Connecticut to fiscal health without finding more labor savings.

Voters recognize this. That is why a Democrat promising to do the public sector unions no harm could get roasted if Republicans nominate an effective candidate, which might be asking a lot given their recent record in that regard.

Yet there were the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates for governor dutifully filling out an online questionnaire provided by the AFL-CIO that demands unwavering fealty to labor’s cause.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Jonathan Harris, a former state senator and consumer protection commissioner, scored perfect 100s. Businessman Ned Lamont came up just shy at 97 percent. Sean Connolly, former veteran affairs commissioner, got the low score of 82 percent.

Addressing the state AFL-CIO’s April 6 convention, Lamont promised if elected to “fight every day for the working people of Connecticut.”

But which working people is he referencing?

When the convention took a straw poll, Lamont won with 48 percent of the vote. Connolly was chastised with 11.4 percent support, finishing only above ex-con and Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim.

Interestingly absent was Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who declined to fill out the questionnaire. Bronin explained he would not be cornered by up or down responses. As a result, he did not get an invite to speak.

At an earlier debate in Fairfield, Bronin said that as Hartford mayor he fought for union concessions to slow the city’s fiscal bleeding, though Hartford still needed a state bailout to avoid insolvency. Bronin also raised the possibility, if elected, of reopening the state labor contracts to further curb pension and medical insurance benefits. He called Malloy’s decision to extend by 10 years the master contract covering state employee benefits, in return for prior concessions, a mistake.

Bronin seems to recognize what the other Democrats don’t; the party nominee will be measured against a Republican candidate likely calling for substantial rollbacks in collective bargaining rights and union protections.

State union leaders may not like a Democratic candidate who tells them they will have to give up more, but if that distasteful medicine comes with an assurance to protect the right to organize and bargain, they will line up in support. And so may some independent and moderate Democratic voters who will otherwise be driven to the Republican candidate by a Democrat who can’t say no to labor.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

 

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