By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – State employee union leaders warned their members Friday not to feel pressured into retiring as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy calls for major labor savings, including possible changes to employee retirement benefits, to help close a budget deficit.
In a memo sent Friday and obtained by The Associated Press, the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition said some eligible workers are contemplating retiring earlier than they had originally planned because of the uncertainty surrounding the closed-door talks between Malloy’s administration and SEBAC over ways to find $2 billion in labor savings over two years.
SEBAC, which represents 13 unions on pension and health care issues, said there’s also uncertainty because of “some of the statements made by the administration regarding the state employee retirement and retiree health plans.”
Malloy has criticized the decision by former Gov. John G. Rowland to enter into a 20-year health care and retirement benefits agreement with the unions, which doesn’t expire until 2017. He has also said that state workers’ current wage, health care and pension benefit levels are not sustainable and said if he doesn’t receive the labor savings there will be thousands of layoffs.
But the coalition reminded its members that all health and retirement benefits are set by contract and cannot be changed without the agreement of the unions and ratification by the members.
“Retirement is obviously an important personal life decision. No one should have to make it out of fear,” reads the memo.
The State Comptroller’s Office said Friday that it had received 247 retirement applications from 41 agencies as of a Thursday deadline to submit paperwork. In comparison, 110 applications for retirement were submitted in April 2010.
Of the 247 applications this year, 78 came from Department of Correction, 25 from the Department of Transportation and 24 from Department of Developmental Services.
There are about 50,000 state employees and about 43,000 are unionized in Connecticut.
Robert Rinker, executive director of CSEA/SEIU, Local 2001, said he’s concerned about the “brain drain” that will occur at state agencies if they have large numbers of experienced workers leave state service. He said it would have the same effect as retirement incentive program, something Malloy has opposed, saying it would not save the state enough money and would push more people into an already under-funded pension system.
“There’s this institutional memory that doesn’t get passed on when people up and leave in a month,” said Rinker.
State employees can leave their jobs 30 days after submitting their retirement paperwork to the comptroller’s office, according union officials. Of the 247 applicants, 239 officially retired on Friday.
Malloy’s office declined to comment on the large number of retirement applications or the union memo.
Looming changes to public employee retirement plans have led to state workers retiring earlier than planned in other states, such as New Jersey. While some have said they wanted to retire for the usual reasons, such as spending more time with grandchildren, others said they hoped to lock in certain benefits before it was too late.
Rinker said workers become scared when they hear about possible changes in pension and retiree health benefits.
A recent internal questionnaire to members of the Administrative and Residual Employees Union, first obtained by The Hartford Courant, asked questions about raising the retirement age to 65 for new employees, creating a new pension program for new hires, requiring all state employees to pay 3 percent of their salary to help pay for retiree medical benefits, and switching from a pension system to a 410(k) savings plan for new hires.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)