Conn. gov issues layoff notices amid labor talks

AP News
Posted: May 10, 2011 7:05 PM
Conn. gov issues layoff notices amid labor talks

Connecticut's Democratic governor increased the pressure Tuesday on state employee unions to agree to $2 billion in concessions and other savings over two years and began issuing the first of more than 4,700 layoff notices to workers.

A full accounting of how many people received notices, effective July 1, was not expected from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office until Thursday. Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser, said the process would continue throughout the coming weeks as various bargaining units have different notification requirements.

"The governor is very sensitive to the fact that there are people who are being impacted by these decisions. He understands the angst they feel, that some people are angry, some people are nervous. (He) didn't want it to come to this. (He) still hopes there can be a deal that will make all of this go away, but has to do certain things to prepare for a scenario in which there is no deal," Occhiogrosso said.

One state technical school employee told The Associated Press that she was informed by a supervisor Tuesday that she's among 1,350 technical school workers who will lose their jobs as of July 1. The employee would not give her name because of the sensitivity of the discussions

Leo Canty, second vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Malloy's so-called "Plan B," an alternative budget being considered in case there is no deal before the fiscal year ends on June 30, basically shuts down the vocational technical high school system.

Malloy had delayed issuing the notices Friday to give both sides more time to talk. But Occhiogrosso said the new governor, who received strong support from union members in last year's campaign, decided to begin issuing layoffs on Tuesday because not enough progress had been made to warrant further delay.

In the meantime, talks were expected to continue, but on a "day-by-day basis," according to Matt O'Connor, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, the group that represents 15 state employee unions in the closed-door talks.

"They will be talking today and hopefully tomorrow and hopefully reaching a deal," Occhiogrosso said. "Today's action in no way, shape or form should be seen as an indication that there will not be a deal. The governor still hopes very much to reach a deal, but this process, this parallel process has to continue."

Union leaders had met with Malloy's staff over the weekend and until early Tuesday morning in hopes of reaching a deal. Both sides have been tight-lipped about any specifics from the talks, but Malloy referred to trying to bring state workers' benefits _ wages, healthcare and pension benefits _ "more in line with those enjoyed by their counterparts in the private sector and in the federal workforce."

He said the union leaders have not offered enough so far.

"I simply refuse to dig us into a deeper hole," said Malloy, referring to Connecticut's various fiscal problems, including large, unfunded pension liabilities for state employees.

Despite the impending, steady stream of layoff notices, news that raised tensions among many state workers on Tuesday, O'Connor said union leaders still wanted to continue the talks and try to avoid job cuts. O'Connor said the unions strongly believe that layoffs will further harm Connecticut's economy, which already boasts a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

"We're still involved in this process of working hard," he said. "Our leaders remain committed. They are very dedicated to reaching a mutual agreement. As long as we're still talking, nothing is holding that process up."

The layoffs are expected to save $455 million in the first year of the two-year, $40.1 billion budget, according to the governor's budget director. To make up the $545 million difference, Malloy has also ordered the state budget office to begin the process of making additional spending cuts. Malloy's budget chief last week provided the Democratic governor with the "Plan B" budget that included $1.2 billion in additional possible cuts that affected all aspects of state government and included large reductions in state aid to cities and towns _ something Malloy has tried to avoid because property taxes would increase.

Many of those possible budget cuts would involve closing or scaling back various state programs. Occhiogrosso said those reductions could boost the projected 4,742 job cut figure over 5,000 positions. The reductions affect both union and non-union workers.

If that happens, it would be the largest state layoff in recent memory for Connecticut state government. According to union officials, there were 2,800 job cuts in 2003 under then-Republican Gov. John G. Rowland and 3,600 in 1992 under then-Independent Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. The state is still dealing with lawsuits involving the 2003 layoffs.

For Malloy, that would be unwelcome notation in the state's history books.

"I want to be clear that this is not the road I wanted to go down," Malloy said in a written statement. "I didn't want to lay people off, and I didn't want to make additional spending cuts beyond the $780 million in spending we've already cut. But I have no choice."

The budget signed into law raises taxes by about $1.4 billion in the first year. Malloy has said he's unwilling to raise taxes any higher.

There are approximately 45,000 unionized state employees in Connecticut and an estimated 50,000 overall.