On Second Try, Connecticut Unions Ratify Contracts

 

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy downplayed the drama that has unfolded in Hartford over the past six months as he reacted to the news that state workers had ratified contracts including major concessions on health and retirement benefits.

Calling the unexpected collapse of an earlier agreement in June "spilled milk," Malloy acknowledged at a press conference yesterday afternoon that he would have enjoyed his summer "substantially more" if workers had approved the deal on the first go-round. But he underscored the long-term nature of the changes that were finally adopted, calling them "the most fundamental restructuring of the relationship between the state and its workforce that has ever occurred in the state of Connecticut." 

Union leaders, who had aggressively pushed rank-and-file members to ratify the deal, responded with palpable relief that dismissal of up to 5,500 employees — many of whom had already received layoff notices — would not take place. "A disaster has been averted and we are on solid ground to regroup and go forward," Ron McLellan, President of Connecticut Employees Union Independent, said at a press conference announcing the vote tally. 

In the short run, most of the savings will come from wage freezes and reduced benefits for early retirement. In the long run, the agreement is expected to save the state $21.5 billion over 20 years because of a higher retirement age, increased contributions by employees to their pension plan, and the gradual elimination of bonuses based solely on work longevity. 

As a timeline from the Connecticut Post details , contract negotiations that began in early March took a dramatic detour in late June after a deal aimed at saving the state $1.6 billion was unexpectedly rejected by rank-and-file members. State union leaders changed their voting rules to improve the prospects for ratification this time around, though the near-final tally of 25,713 to 9,291 means that the deal would have been approved even under the old rules.   

Malloy emphasized his support for collective bargaining rights and praised unions for their cooperation even as he acknowledged that some "feathers were ruffled" along the way. "In comparison to how other states have done it, we should be proud," he said.  

 After the original deal's collapse, the state Senate passed a measure that would make future pension and health care changes through legislation, rather than at the bargaining table. 

 
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