By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The Connecticut State Police Union on Friday voted down a two-year wage freeze in a labor savings and concessions agreement, effectively exposing state troopers to layoffs.
The union was the last state employee union to vote on the agreement, which includes four years of no-layoff protection.
The troopers supported the changes in the agreement to the health and pension benefits, and plan to make a case on Monday for keeping their jobs. They have scheduled a news conference at the state Capitol.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has already issued 56 layoff notices to state troopers. Those would have been automatically rescinded if the union had voted for the wage freeze.
“We were part of the solution this time,” said Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the union president, referring to the troopers’ support of the health care and retirement changes. “We were part of the solution last time, and I think what happened is, our members got to the point where they were so frustrated that they voted against giving back more wages.”
The vote to reject the wage freeze was 123 to 657. The vote to approve the pension and health care changes was 448 to 329. The votes do not affect the overall ratification of the deal. The troopers voted late because of a delay in mailing out ballots.
Matthews said the troopers also plan on Monday to ask the General Assembly to allow them to negotiate their pension and health benefits separately from the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents 15 unions. He said the state police respect SEBAC and what they’ve accomplished, but believe their law enforcement jobs are distinctly different from most state employee positions given the serious physical risks.
SEBAC now represents about 45,000 unionized state employees. The state police union has 1,083 members.
“We’re all union brothers and sisters, and we will always be there to support them but we just think that this really brought everything to focus for our members,” Matthews told The Associated Press. “We are unique and distinct within state government, and we don’t think we’re better than anybody else, we just think we’re different. We’re different in the sense that when we leave home, we don’t know if we’re coming home.”
A SEBAC spokesman declined to comment.
On Thursday, the bargaining unit representing Department of Correction supervisors also defeated the wage freeze. Additionally, they voted down the changes to the health and retirement benefits and will not receive the job protection.
Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, said Friday that most of the layoff notices issued to about 3,100 state employees in recent weeks are expected to officially be rescinded on Sept. 1 now that rank-and-file union members have approved a labor savings and concessions agreement. The exceptions will be managers and those bargaining units that did not ratify the deal.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior adviser, said it’s unclear whether the governor plans to rescind any of the notices issued to the state troopers.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said, adding that Malloy plans to meet with his public safety commissioner to see what makes sense. “But they clearly have rejected their job security provisions so those layoffs could easily stand … The governor doesn’t want to do anything to compromise public safety, but on the other hand has a budget to manage and he has to find the right balance between those two.”
While Barnes said several hundred state workers who’ve lost their jobs and whose units approved the changes will be back at work around Sept. 1, top union negotiator Dan Livingston said union leaders are urging the administration to return the employees right away.
“We’re asking the administration not to wait. And for anybody who is already laid off, we’re asking them to bring them back immediately,” Livingston said. “There’s no reason for them to suffer any more than they have to.”
About 100 workers represented by the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, are already out of work, some for as long a month. Sal Luciano, president of AFSCME Council 4, said a few hundred clerical workers are off the job. He said some have received letters from their human resources managers informing them that the layoffs will be rescinded, but no date has been set for their return to work. Many workers received the notices after unionized workers initially failed to ratify the labor deal back in June.
“It’s really important that they get to work right away,” said District 1199 President Carmen Boudier, adding that her health care workers “need to get to taking care of the people who we serve.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)