After weeks of voting, unionized state employees have overwhelmingly approved a labor concessions package that's expected to provide $1.5 billion in savings for the over the next two years.
The agreement, which was hammered out by Governor Dannel Malloy and union leaders earlier this year, provides workers with four years of job security in return for a two-year wage freeze and higher insurance premiums and pension contributions.
“One point five billion saved in the next two years, $24 [billion] over the next 20 years -- that is almost 30 percent of the state's budget deficit reduced and eliminated by less than 2 percent of the state's population,” said Darnell Ford, who works for the state Department of Children and Families.
Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull is a Unitarian minister and a member of D.U.E. Justice, a coalition of state workers, advocates, and clergy. She said state workers have done their part, and now it's up to the legislature to craft what she calls a "moral budget."
“You are key contributors to the well-being of this state,” she told state employees at a news conference Tuesday. “What you have done should be more than matched by Connecticut's millionaires, billionaires, and corporations.”
Union leaders are calling for increased taxes on major corporations and wealthy residents. They are asking legislators to look at what’s known as the “carried interest loophole.” Closing that would mean hedge fund managers could end up paying higher taxes on their fund profits.
The vote by state unions in favor of a new labor concessions package was supposed to pave the way for a long-awaited budget agreement. But the immediate political reaction to the vote wasn’t encouraging.
Republicans say that in return for wage freezes and more benefit contributions, the governor has given away too much by extending the labor agreement to 2027.
“I am not saying that people should be on pins and needles every day thinking they’re going to get fired,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides. “But when we have guaranteed wage increases, guaranteed no layoffs and ten year contracts, we don’t make any structural changes.”
Klarides said her caucus won’t vote for the SEBAC agreement. Republicans want to make changes to pensions and benefits through legislation, instead of by union negotiation, something labor leaders have decried as an attack on collective bargaining.
Democrats claim only about a third of the planned $1.5 billion in savings could be achieved by statutory changes, and no alterations could be made to health benefits and pensions until 2022, the end date of the current labor agreement.
Republican leader in the Senate, Len Fasano, said he believes it’s worth the wait.
“After 2022, we control our own destiny as a state,” Fasano said.
As for the unions’ suggestion that legislators should now look to more taxes on corporations and hedge fund managers, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said that’s a political non-starter.
“We have to get 76 votes to pass a budget out of the House. We have to be in agreement with the Senate to get at least 18 of their votes -- maybe the lieutenant governor,” he said. “And none of it becomes law unless the governor agrees and he signs it.”
The speaker, who had previously promised a budget vote Tuesday now said he’s hoping it will come before the end of the month.