State police may lose 56 troopers in wake of vote
Hartford - Without last-minute action by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, today could be the last day on the job for 56 Connecticut state troopers whose union voted down part of a labor concessions deal last week.
The troopers - all graduates of last year's training class - received pink slips in mid-July that are scheduled to take effect Wednesday. Malloy was poised to rescind the layoffs if the Connecticut State Police Union voted as the other 14 state unions did last week and ratified the full concessions deal.
But the state police only ratified half of it. Troopers accepted the health care and benefits part of the deal and voted down the wages part, 123 to 657. That second half would have guaranteed no layoffs for four years in exchange for a two-year wage freeze followed by three years of subsequent 3 percent raises.
So the state police union will stick with its existing contract, which runs until mid-2012, and the 1,127 troopers will get to keep the 2.5 percent raises that began July 1. But they will miss out on the guaranteed job security.
If Malloy doesn't grant the troopers an exception to the layoffs, their ranks will dwindle to 1,071.
On Monday, more than 250 state troopers and their families rallied on the steps of the Capitol to protest the layoffs and the state's refusal to maintain the statutory minimum trooper level of 1,248. Speakers included the widow of a trooper who was killed on duty and Jim Reidy, a retired trooper who survived multiple gunshot wounds in a 1998 confrontation with a mentally deranged man.
The troopers stood on the north steps of the Capitol wearing cargo shorts and white police union T-shirts. Many waved American flags, some pushed strollers and others carried signs of protest against the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, the umbrella organization of 15 state unions that negotiated the concessions deal and that state police are attempting to leave.
One sign read "State Police Union 24/7 - SEBAC 8 hours/day."
Andrew Matthews, president of the state police union, said that all troopers deserve raises this year, as they gave up raises in the past and their job entails a unique set of responsibilities and dangers. Troopers agreed to concessions two years ago under former Gov. Jodi Rell that involved taking a wage freeze in 2009 and a pay-step freeze last year.
Matthews said that if state police had accepted Malloy's concessions deal, it would have meant giving up the raises promised them this year and going a total four years without an increase in pay.
Nearly all state union workers faced similar pay freezes under Rell's concessions deal, with the exception of state correctional workers and correctional supervisors, who voted them down. The correctional supervisors last week rejected both parts of Malloy's concessions deal.
Matthews emphasized that laying off troopers would jeopardize public safety by shrinking an already understaffed force.
"We are here to remind everyone that the primary function of all government is to provide public safety," he said.
The first-year salary for a state trooper after training is $51,672 a year. Under the union's salary steps, the annual salary for a trooper after five years is $57,128. A trooper's salary can max out at $96,220, not including overtime pay.
A state police job is considered hazardous duty, and current workers can retire after 20 years of service.
Michael Buck, 26, of Troop H in Hartford, is one of the troopers to be laid off Wednesday. He voted in favor of the full concessions deal but said he understood why many of his older colleagues didn't.
"I do not blame troopers who gave back their raises in 2009 who don't want to do it again because this cycle can just continue to go and go," Buck said.
Shortly after the rally, Malloy issued a statement saying that he was sensitive to the troopers' concerns.
"But I have to manage the entire workforce, and given the massive budget problems I inherited, I believe asking all state employees to take a two-year wage freeze - in return for job security - is fair," Malloy said. "By rejecting that two-year wage freeze the state police have rejected the job security; therefore, they're subject to layoffs."
Asked by reporters later in the day if he planned to lay off all 56 troopers, Malloy said he will meet again today with Reuben Bradford, the public-safety commissioner, and discuss "all of my options."
Lowell Weicker was the last Connecticut governor to issue large-scale pink slips to the state police. The 111 troopers laid off in 1991 returned to work after the union agreed to concessions.
The state police union supported Malloy in his gubernatorial race last year, in part because he pledged to increase the number of troopers so that Connecticut "meets and exceeds" the 1,248 statutory minimum.
The Malloy administration on Monday distanced itself from that staffing goal.
"The number is arbitrary, and the state police haven't been at that number in quite some time," the governor's spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan, said.
She continued: "Even given the budgetary challenges the state faces, the governor will not compromise public safety, and the commissioner of the department and the colonel of the state police have assured him of such."