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Connecticut unions knuckle under over cuts, political fallout continues

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August 15, 2011

By David Godow

Connecticut

HARTFORD, Connecticut:

After months of wrangling, Connecticut public employees approved $1.6 billion of cuts to their compensation last Thursday, handing Governor Dan Malloy a long-awaited victory in his efforts to close Connecticut's $3.3 billion budget deficit. Malloy's coup comes after repeated breakdowns in negotiations over the summer, including the rejection by rank-and-file members of a very similar deal in June. Following arm-wringing by union leaders, including a rewrite of bylaws meant to avoid a repeat of the June debacle, members accepted a two-year pay freeze and cuts to their health care and pension benefits in exchange for a guarantee of no budget-related layoffs over the next four years.[1] The final vote passed 25,713 to 9,9291, with 14 out of 15 individual unions approving the deal.[2]

Closing the union deal means Connecticut's budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal biennium can finally move into the black. The $1.6 billion of cuts extracted from state employees joins an additional $1.5 billion tax hike pushed through over the objections of the state's Republican minority this spring, plus other additional minor spending changes.

Still, though the immediate fight may be over, a substantial political backlash is expected against the first-term Democratic governor, whose 2010 election was pushed hard by organized labor.

First he has to deal with the state police union, the only labor group to refuse to accept pay freezes in exchange for protection against layoffs. Rejection of Malloy's deal means 56 Connecticut troopers may find themselves out of a job tomorrow unless the union knuckles under.[3] 250 union families rallied at the state capitol on Monday to protest the job cuts, arguing they would jeopardize public safety. Protestors also complained that the governor's cuts were unfair, since state law enforcement officers were deprived regularly scheduled pay increases last year. The complaints are unlikely to end with a few demonstrations: the AP reported yesterday that the state police union will pull out of the 15-member state employee union coalition because of its willingness to accept compensation cuts.[4]

The state's two prison worker unions have also gone after the administration in the wake of the last week's compensation deal, complaining that prison facility closures have led to overcrowding. According to union leadership, 870 Connecticut prison inmates have been forced to sleep on gymnasium and closet floors because of a lack of space. The unions have filed suit to halt the closure of a 600-bed facility in Bergin.[5]

If Malloy and his union backers can't bury the hatchet by the 2014 elections, Republicans could find themselves in a strong position to take the governor's mansion. In 2010, GOP candidate Thomas C. Foley fell to Malloy by only half a point, suggesting Dem leaders will push strongly for a reconciliation before the breach with the unions becomes permanent.

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