After Gov. Dannel Malloy urged lawmakers in Hartford to reject a new contract for 1,900 nonteaching staff at the University of Connecticut, the UConn union withdrew the contract from the General Assembly’s consideration.
Now that the contract has been withdrawn, neither house of the state legislature will need to vote on it. The contract would automatically have taken effect on Wednesday if neither house had voted against it. After Malloy’s intervention, the contract faced an uphill battle in the state Senate, with Democratic leaders saying the body would likely reject the deal. Speaking to reporters in Hartford Friday after the contract’s withdrawal, state House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said initial withdrawal talks stemmed from a “technical glitch” in the contract’s language that would have proved fatal to the deal.
But the main reason for the contract’s withdrawal was to permit both parties to negotiate a new deal with a better chance of passing in the General Assembly, Sharkey said.
“The parties have agreed to withdraw the contract and take another look, potentially, at going back to the bargaining table,” Sharkey said. “The bargaining unit … really needs, I think, some time to go back to their rank and file and discuss the possibility of reopening the negotiation and as a result, that’s the reason for their withdrawal.”
Whether the contract’s withdrawal was in fact the result of a “glitch” in its language remains unclear. In a Friday statement, state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, said the language flaw was a pretext for “legislative Democrats to get …out of taking a vote on this contract,” though he added that the contract, all told, would be a bad deal for the state.
When Director of Labor Relations Michael Egan submitted a revised version of the contract to the state Senate on Wednesday, it appeared that any glitch had been corrected.
The state Senate planned to vote on the contract on either Friday or Monday, said state Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, at a Thursday press conference. When pressed on whether he thought the contract would pass, Looney refused to give a direct answer. But Sharkey said on Friday that the contract would likely have been voted down by the body.
Looney did say on Thursday, however, that the situation had “deteriorated” in the period since the contract was approved by the Appropriations Committee the week before. In the intervening time, the size of the state’s budget deficit was revealed to be even larger than expected, amounting to up to $266 million.
Looney said the original contract was already “straining the very edges of sustainability” and that the new budget revelations meant the contract had become unaffordable for the state. Looney also questioned the need for the contract’s changes at a time when Malloy’s approach to the state’s finances is rapidly changing.
The contract had become a controversial issue in Hartford following Malloy’s proposal of harsh budget cuts last month that would, he said, better reflect the state’s new economic reality. Though UConn said the five-year cost of the contract would come to $56 million, the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the cost at just under $94 million. Looney said the contract would work against the interests of Connecticut’s workers and would result in more layoffs for UConn staff as time goes on.
In his statement to the legislature Wednesday, Malloy said the contract — though “negotiated in good faith” between UConn and its union — fails to reflect a new economic reality. Malloy said the contract, which would provide pay increases over the next five years, is unaffordable while the state makes cuts in other departments.
Lori Pelletier, president of the state’s AFL-CIO union, expressed displeasure at the controversy in Hartford Friday, saying the state was unfairly turning away from a contract that it had already negotiated.
“We were not happy with the idea that the governor and the legislature … said that this should be voted down,” she said. “This collective bargaining process was both sides. This wasn’t just the union going in and saying ‘we want all of this.’ This was both sides, give-and-take, and for a long period of time.”
Pelletier added that the governor and legislature had failed to “respect the process” of negotiation. Because unions are democratic, she said, it will ultimately be up to the members to renegotiate a contract to submit to the General Assembly.
When asked whether the withdrawal of the contract amid a likely rejection sends a message to the state’s public unions, Sharkey said the message is already evident in the sheer size of the states’ deficit is the message.
But the acrimony was not only directed from the union to the legislature, but also from the legislature to the governor. Sharkey criticized the last-minute nature of Malloy’s intervention.
“It was only in the 11th hour, when we were considering a vote, that the governor weighed in,” Sharkey said. “So I’d also hope that the governor, if he has concerns about these contracts, that he step in a little bit earlier and not expect the legislature to solve all these problems in the 11th hour.”
The UConn contract is one of 14 contracts that were open for negotiation this year, though it is the only one that will be submitted to the General Assembly.