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SEBAC Asks For Another Round Of Concessions Talks

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State employee union spokespeople Matt O'Connor and Larry Dorman outside the state capitol. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer

State employee union spokespeople Matt O’Connor and Larry Dorman outside the state capitol. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ State employee union leaders on Tuesday asked Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to “reconvene discussions” with them to see what can be done to quickly stop thousands of looming layoffs.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition hand-delivered a one-page letter to the Democratic governor, saying the group believes that finalizing a labor savings and concessions agreement “is very much in the long-term interests of both our members and the public they serve.”

“Therefore we would request that you or your representatives reconvene discussions as soon as possible to see what is necessary to reach an agreement that can be finalized and implemented,” the letter reads.

SEBAC officials were careful not to say they were asking to “renegotiate” the labor deal. Malloy has said repeatedly that his administration is unwilling to renegotiate, but it was open to clarifying parts of the agreement. For example, many state workers had concerns with a proposed health insurance and wellness program that required annual physicals and other medical tests.

“We wouldn’t characterize what we’ve asked for as really anything more than just a reconvening of talks, to pick up where things left off,” said Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman. He said the hope is that both sides would determine, from those discussions, what to do next.

“The path forward is one where both sides are talking,” he added.

Asked for a response to SEBAC’s letter, Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said, “The governor has said all along he’s happy to clarify the language of the agreement if that will allow it to be ratified.”

Union leaders, who represent about 45,000 state employees, have been struggling to find a way to avoid the layoffs _ at least 6,500 are planned _ after the deal was rejected by only four of the 15 SEBAC unions, or 57 percent of those who cast votes. Under the coalition’s current bylaws, at least 14 of the 15 unions have to vote to support any changes to the coveted, 20-year health and retirement benefit agreement that’s in place until 2017.

On Tuesday, the SEBAC leaders officially cast their votes, 11-4, based on how the rank-and-file members voted.

Last week, the same leaders rejected a motion to amend the coalition’s bylaws to retroactively affect the vote, saying they wanted to respect the wishes of their members who opposed the deal. However, they did adopt a resolution to consider future changes to the bylaws that would govern future labor agreements. O’Connor said those bylaws were still being reviewed.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly has granted Malloy expanded budget-cutting authority to balance the two-year, $40.1 billion budget without the $1.6 billion in anticipated savings from the labor savings and concessions agreement. Part of that bill, which passed last week during a special legislative session, gave the unions until Aug. 31 to pass “an agreement” between the state and SEBAC, not making specific reference to the deal that failed.

Last week’s legislation requires Malloy to submit his proposed reductions to the legislature by July 15. Lawmakers would be able to hold a hearing on those cuts and make changes if they decide that’s necessary. But many legislators have been holding out hope that the administration and the unions can somehow reach a deal and make the wide-ranging budget cuts and layoffs moot.

Larry Dorman, a SEBAC spokesman, would not say what options could be on the table, but said SEBAC is talking with union leaders and rank-and-file to come up with a solution that will work.

“I don’t think anybody in this building wants to see the pink slips issued, I don’t think anybody wants to see services cut … and see privatization,” he said. “We believe and we’re hopeful and we’re even optimistic, that despite the setbacks that have happened, we can figure this out.”

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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