Malloy Should Renegotiate, This Time For The Public
When it comes to the concessions agreement that recently failed the state employee union coalition’s complicated ratification process, what’s the difference between “clarifying” and “renegotiating”? “Clarifying” is what Gov. Malloy said he was willing to do about the rejected agreement. “Renegotiating” is what the unions want him to do but what he said he wouldn’t. The other day they agreed to start talking again. About what remains to be seen.Presumably “renegotiating” means a substantial change in contract terms and a loss of face for the governor, who already has lost face by being so gentle with the unions, pretty-pleasing them from the moment of his inauguration in January only for them to spurn him and explode the state budget just hours before it was to take effect. In response, the governor has undertaken to lay off thousands of state employees so that, he says, he can recover the contract savings that were budgeted but not obtained.But renegotiating is not just a risk that Malloy will lose more face. It’s also an opportunity for him to regain respect — by negotiating aggressively in the public interest this time.The decisive opposition to the concessions agreement among union members is said to have involved changes in the state medical insurance program, changes requiring employees to submit to preventive care. Now the unions are distressed by the layoffs as well.The governor could offer to oblige them, to drop the preventive care requirement and cancel the layoffs, while asking a lot in return: getting rid of the now-infamous “longevity pay”; freezing salaries throughout the new contract, not just for two years; advancing the expiration of the benefits provisions, now 2017, to the end of the current state administration in January 2015 so the next governor has a free hand; guaranteeing against layoffs for only one year instead of four; and putting new employees in a 401(k) retirement savings plan so that the state’s defined-benefit plan, badly underfunded and an extravagance, gradually expires.Then the governor would be hard to argue with. After all, he offered the unions the most generous contract in the country. Their leaders accepted it, as did 57 percent of union members. But with their undemocratic ratification process, the unions turned out to be bargaining in bad faith and caused state government huge inconvenience, the budget’s destruction, as well as political mortification for the governor. That is, the governor could tell the unions that if they want another round of negotiations, they’ll have to pay for the mess they made with the first one.Of course the governor might lose the affection of the unions this way. But having just been humiliated by them, he might wonder how much more their friendship is worth. New York’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo, has exacted sacrifice from public employee unions and other beneficiaries of state spending and finds himself very popular with everyone else. Malloy might regain the public’s respect if he too began to articulate the public interest.On the other hand, if there’s no renegotiation and the layoffs proceed, Connecticut might live with that just as well. The long saga of the union negotiations, now threatening to consume the new state administration’s entire first year, has demonstrated the government’s timidity in the face of both the state employee and the municipal employee unions, which themselves were in effect guaranteed against concessions when the governor and Legislature refused to reduce state financial grants to towns. It’s simple political arithmetic. Connecticut has about 50,000 state employees and 160,000 municipal employees, and if each has a like-minded spouse, child or parent who votes, they constitute a distinct interest of more than 300,000 people, more than half the 567,000 votes it took to win last year’s election for governor. No force in politics in Connecticut or combination of forces comes close to balancing that; indeed, right now there seems to be no other force in state politics at all, Connecticut having taken to the extreme James Reston’s maxim that all politics is based on the indifference of the majority. But there is enough of an informed public left in Connecticut to sense when its interest is being articulated.In any case, in these circumstances anything that reduces the influence of a special interest is a step back toward democracy, so that the three branches of government in Connecticut might become something other than the unions, the lawyers and the liquor stores.Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.