Sen. Kane: “Republicans have the ideas to get us out of this mess.” (Hartford Courant)

March 14, 2016

GOP: State Employee Layoffs Unnecessary
By Christopher Keating
Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said Friday that if state employees took two unpaid furlough days before June 30, layoffs would be unnecessary, at least for now.

The furlough days would generate savings of $8 million in the current fiscal year, which would be enough to stop layoffs for the moment, Fasano said.

The layoffs are “not the right thing to do,” he said. “This is about people’s lives.”

In addition, Fasano said that more than $100 million could be saved in the next fiscal year if state employees reopened their contract and agreed to a 10 percent increase in dental premiums, a higher contribution to their pensions and higher co-pays on prescription drugs for employees and retirees, among other moves.

But the administration took issue with the Republican’s statement. Budget spokesman Christopher McClure noted Friday that the governor has been saying that state employees, who are represented through the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, must be part of the solution to the state’s budget problems.

“One area where we disagree with Sen. Fasano — claiming that layoffs can be avoided by opening SEBAC — is a false choice,” he said. “Unless we want to raise taxes, reducing the size of state government is a difficult but necessary part of living within our means.”

“State employees are not at fault for the state’s economic challenges,” McClure said. “At the same time, as we reassess and fundamentally alter the services we provide to our citizens, [state employees] need to be at the table.”

Projected deficits for the budget, hit hard by decreased tax collections, are now at $266 million for the fiscal year that ends on June 30 and nearly $900 million for next year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has threatened layoffs, notifying major unions in a letter this week that “labor force impacts” in the future “may include reductions in force.” The letter was part of the detailed notification process required for unionized workers.

But the Senate Republicans are arguing that because the current fiscal year is almost three-quarters over, the relatively small numbers needed to close at least the short-term deficit could be covered by the two furlough days.

The unpaid furloughs would not be forced upon a series of key workers in public safety positions and agencies that need 24-hour staffing, including state police and prison guards. The furloughs also would not apply to judicial marshals in the courthouses and public defenders who represent criminal defendants. Overall, less than half of the state employees would need to take furloughs, which could generate savings of $4 million per day, or $8 million over two days.

Fasano said he is concerned about the newest employees, who have the highest chance of being laid off in the coming months.
“Sadly, when it comes to union negotiations, often the powerless are sacrificed for the powerful,” he said. “If layoffs occur, it will be the newer workers with lower wages who are let go. It won’t be those union heads in power. If unions don’t want to see layoffs, they have the muscle to stop them. But they have to put people before politics.”

He added, “These employees are going to lose their jobs because of years of bad budgets passed by Democrats and the governor driving our state finances into the ground. But there is a way to save these jobs. Union heads just need to be willing to put workers first and start the conversation about other cost-saving alternatives.”

Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, who appeared at a press conference with Fasano at the Capitol Friday, said, “The Republicans are looking for alternative ideas and not just slashing and burning. We have the ideas to get us out of this mess.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, noted that Fasano had been quoted last year as saying that layoffs were an important budget tool for Malloy.

“These are many things that have to be negotiated. They’re not things that you can do by fiat,” Looney said. “You can only mandate these [furloughs] for non-union employees, and the savings there will be much smaller.”

The state employee unions released a statement from the president of the professors’ union at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven in response to the Republicans’ proposal.

“The layoffs are, of course, a terrible idea and Republican leaders are among those who caused the budget problem by their stubborn refusal to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share,” said Cindy Stretch, an English professor at Southern Connecticut State University. “What they claim is a furlough day proposal is actually a Trojan horse proposal that calls for reopening the SEBAC agreement plus pay cuts, which Republicans euphemistically call furlough days. And by offering no job security, this proposal would allow layoffs to go forward.”

Stretch added, “The governor’s proposed layoffs and millions of dollars in cuts to public services will have a terrible impact on real human lives in the public and private sector, and threaten the well-being of our communities and the health of our economy. But disingenuous political grandstanding by the defenders of the richest 1 percent only makes things worse.”