Sen. Fasano Calls for Vote Soon on Controversial UConn Contract

March 1, 2016

Hartford Courant

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano and others are calling for the full legislature to vote on a controversial contract for nearly 2,000 non-teaching employees at the University of Connecticut.

The contract will automatically go into effect if the legislature takes no action by March 9.

But Fasano, other Republicans, and some Democrats say that a vote is needed on the multi-million-dollar contract to set the tone for future union awards. The contract calls for a 3 percent raise in the first year and then 4.5 percent increases for four consecutive years – including an increase in the workweek from 35 hours to 40 hours.

The House Democrats talked about the UConn contract during their closed-door caucus last week at the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, but no final decisions have been announced on whether there will be a vote by the full legislature.

“Years of historic tax increases have damaged the economy and only led to larger and larger deficits in the state budget,” Fasano wrote Tuesday to top legislative leaders. “I think we are finally at the tipping point where Democrats are beginning to see what Republicans have for so long – the trouble on the horizon is profound.”

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, who will play a key role in whether there is a formal vote, is concerned about the price of the contract for the UConn Professional Employees Association, known as UCPEA.

“Everyone understands the overall budget challenges we face, and I heard from legislators, both on the committee and not, who expressed understandable concerns, which I share, over the price tag of this contract,” Sharkey said. “Through no fault of UCPEA, it is apparent that UConn negotiated this without consideration of the economic reality of the state, and their CFO couldn’t say how they are going to pay for it. The truth is it has to either come from taxpayers, more tuition hikes, or layoffs, and that concerns me greatly.”

Republicans say the legislature’s budget-writing committee missed a chance last week to set the fiscal tone by failing to block the contract for professional employees. House members on the committee voted in favor of the contract, which some legislators described as unaffordable and others said should be approved because it was bargained in good faith and approved by the university.

While the House members approved the contract, the Senate members battled to a 6-6 tie as they debated over whether the full legislature should approve the contract.

Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, voted in favor of the deal because she said that turning it down could eventually cost the state even more money.

“Arbitration is not a safe bet,’’ Bye told her colleagues. “I believe the outcome would be worse. The last time we arbitrated, the outcome was worse.’’

She added, “It’s not an easy vote, but these are middle-class families asking for middle-class wages.’’

But Senator Joan Hartley, a fiscally conservative Democrat from Waterbury, voted against the contract.

“On balance, I am only left to work with the numbers,’’ Hartley said. “We’ve increased tuition. I do not want to see mass layoffs. In my view,

it’s better to batten the hatches and hope for better times. … I am still left with the numbers, and they do not add up.’’

Sen. John Kissel, a longtime lawmaker from Enfield who voted against the contract, said in an interview that the contract could eventually boomerrang on the employees.

“They’re setting themselves up for layoffs,” Kissel told Capitol Watch. “I think it sets a bad standard because we have 15 others coming up. The other unions would look to that and say there’s precedent.”

House Republican leader Themis Klarides said she is unsure whether the full House will vote on the UConn contract, but added that past practice does not make her optimistic.

“This is my 17th year here, and I have voted on zero contracts,’’ Klarides told Capitol Watch in an interview. “We have set a precedent that they are rubber-stamped.’’