Conn. labor talks to continue through the night

May 13, 2011 4:39:47 AM PDT
Connecticut state employee labor leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's negotiators held a marathon overnight meeting Friday, hoping to reach an agreement on finding $2 billion in labor savings over two years.

"They're so hopeful that they can that they're going to keep going for as long as they can," State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition spokesman Matt O'Connor told The Associated Press.

O'Connor said the two sides are trying to come up with a general "framework in principle." That framework would need to be distilled into a tentative agreement on any changes to health care and retirement issues - matters that fall under SEBAC's purview.

If, as expected, there are changes to working conditions and wages, such as furlough days, those issues would have to be negotiated for each of the 34 labor contracts. The contracts cover more than 45,000 employees.

"All that would be achieved at this point would be a framework in principle," said O'Connor.

Any tentative agreement on health and benefit issues would still require rank-and-file approval from 13 of the 15 unions SEBAC represents. And any changes to the working conditions would have to be approved by each individual bargaining unit.

While the two sides continued their talks, Malloy's office revealed that 182 state employees so far have been notified they will lose their jobs July 1.

The accounting of the first wave of 4,742 threatened layoffs, which lists individual job classifications, indicates most of the notices issued through Wednesday - 136 - were issued to Department of Correction employees. That list includes 75 correctional officer positions and 16 correctional counselors.

Malloy is considering closing another prison, in addition to the closure included in the two-year, $40.1 billion budget, if the labor savings and concessions accord is not reached.

In a statement to union members posted on the SEBAC website Thursday, leaders told their members that they are working hard to prevent the 4,742 layoffs Malloy has said are needed if a deal is not reached. Layoff notices, effective July 1, began Tuesday.

SEBAC's statement makes reference to the angst and frustration being felt by many state employees, mentioning how some have questioned why SEBAC leadership has not briefed them on the details of the ongoing discussions in writing. Talks began March 2.

"While many members have shared ideas, attended union meetings or been verbally briefed by stewards, delegates or other union leaders, others have heard rumors or seen unofficial written accounts of the discussions," according to the statement. "Some of these so-called reports have been wildly inaccurate."

The memo goes on to say that SEBAC leaders still believe it's possible "to reach an agreement with the Malloy administration that provides a framework for playing a role in resolving the economic crisis while protecting our members and the services we provide. We don't want to decrease our chances of success by 'negotiating through the press."' Last week, Malloy signed the two-year, $40.1 billion budget, which assumes the $2 billion in savings will be reached. The same plan raises taxes by $1.4 billion in the first year and cuts spending by about $780 million. Connecticut is facing an estimated $3.3 billion deficit as of July 1.

If a deal isn't reached, Malloy's budget chief has presented him with a Plan B budget that includes the 4,742 layoffs and $1.2 billion in additional spending cut options to cover the $1 billion in expected labor savings in the first year.

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