HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State employee union leaders and State Attorney George Jepsen said Tuesday they have reached a long-awaited legal settlement, ending a federal court battle over former Gov. John G. Rowland's decision to lay off thousands of workers during a 2003 labor contract dispute.
While the deal could potentially cost the state tens of millions of dollars, the exact cost is unclear, said union attorney David Golub. The plaintiffs agreed to accept deferred payment for their economic damages. Affected workers would be able to take vacation pay and personal leave that can be used as personal time or redeemed when they leave state employment. The amount of time would be based on a person's salary.
"The unions are very aware of the state's budgetary issues," Golub said.
Under the agreement, former state employees can receive installment payments over three years. Golub estimates about 80 to 85 percent of the affected employees still work for the state.
"Make no mistake — there are costs associated with this settlement, and while they will not be fully known or realized for some time, they are not insignificant. I am deeply mindful of the fiscal difficulties confronting the state. However, the financial risks of not settling are simply too significant to ignore," said Jepsen, estimating the state could face damages as high as $300 million.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the state employee unions, had argued that the workers were laid off based on their union membership.
"This settlement doesn't just achieve justice. It finally ends a dark chapter in our state's history," the coalition said in a written statement. "Governor Rowland's disrespect for the Constitution and the laws he swore to uphold caused terrible harm to our state. "
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled in 2013 that the former Republican governor's administration violated the 2,800 state workers' right to freedom of association and ordered a lower federal court, which had found in the administration's favor, to decide on an award for the employees. Jepsen then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, but later withdrew the appeal following a request by the coalition to begin settlement talks.
Many of the 2,800 laid-off workers were later rehired when other employees left state jobs. But many of the rehired workers didn't get their old jobs back and received less pay.
"They lost benefits, they lost pension, they lost health insurance," said Golub, adding how Rowland's layoffs created "real interference" with people's lives.
"He picked a battle with the union. He hurt union members. He hurt the state's workforce. He laid off people he didn't need to lay off," Golub said. "This is the remnants of what Rowland did."
Rowland and his lawyers had argued the case could have national implications because it would have a chilling effect on governors and local officials during labor negotiations. A message was left seeking comment with the former Republican governor.
Besides claims against the state, Tuesday's settlement also includes any potential claims against Rowland and former Office of Policy and Management Secretary Marc Ryan individually.
The agreement now moves to the General Assembly consideration. Sixty percent would have to disapprove the deal. If no action is taken by June 3, the settlement is accepted and sent to the federal court in Hartford for final approval.
Rowland was sentenced last month to 2 ½ years in federal prison for seven election-law violations, stemming from a political consulting scheme. His lawyer plans to seek an appeal. Rowland previously served 10 months in a federal prison camp for a corruption-related crime.