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May 13, 2011 / J. Shaw

Connecticut Unions Agree to $1.6 Billion in Givebacks


By ,  Threatened with nearly 5,000 layoffs, representatives for 45,000 unionized state employees agreed Friday to $1.6 billion in concessions over two years to help balance a budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, above, says includes pain for everyone: record tax increases, substantial program cuts and worker givebacks in health care, pension benefits and wages.

Mr. Malloy announced the deal after two months of negotiations and the passage of a budget last week that assumed concessions before they were accepted by the unions. He said the deal, which is still subject to ratification by workers, would save Connecticut taxpayers $21.5 billion over 20 years through structural changes in employee compensation.

The governor, a Democrat who won election in November with strong union support, has carved out a national niche as a politician seeking an approach to state governance different from the confrontational stances taken by Republican counterparts like Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Despite layoff notices that started going out this week, Mr. Malloy and labor leaders maintained a cordial public tone throughout the bargaining.

Mr. Malloy hailed the deal as “historic because of the way we achieved it — we respected the collective-bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger.” He also called the deal “the most significant agreement with state employees in Connecticut history” for its long-term approach.

Republicans were far less impressed; the party’s chairman, Chris Healy, called the agreement a “budget charade,” with insufficient work force cuts because of Mr. Malloy’s close ties to employee unions.

The agreement includes a provision that no unionized employees will be laid off for four years and a two-year freeze on wages for all employees. Mr. Malloy said he nevertheless planned to reduce the size of the government through attrition and the elimination of managerial positions.

The concessions fall $400 million short of the $2 billion Mr. Malloy sought, a difference that will be made up with more spending cuts and revenues that are higher than had been anticipated.

But no further details are being released as negotiators take the agreement to 34 bargaining units at 15 unions; it needs 14 of those unions and 80 percent of the voting members to approve it. Union officials said they would send details to members immediately, and planned to make them public at the beginning of next week.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the unions, said it was hard to predict how members would react, but the deal should be evaluated in terms of contentious anti-union sentiments and turmoil in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. “I hate to say if it’s good or bad,” he said, “but we stand behind it and think it’s the right thing to do in these difficult times.”

Republicans said it was impossible to assess the package fully without more specifics, but said the amicable dealings between Mr. Malloy and union leaders were not necessarily a good sign.

“A lot of people have asked where’s the outrage, the kind of outrage you saw in Wisconsin and around the country where various governors, especially Republican governors, have wanted to make changes,” the House Republican leader, Larry Cafero, said.



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