Has Malloy had enough yet with the unions? And, oblivious at UConn
As he laid off state troopers and prison supervisors in unions that rejected the pay freeze he sought (before becoming immersed in storm cleanup duties), maybe Gov. Dannel Malloy at last had enough of collective bargaining with state government employees. The troopers and prison supervisors apparently consider themselves indispensable and bigger than the government. Maybe their positions are indispensable. Even if the state police stopped chasing dopeheads around and issued fewer trivial traffic tickets, Connecticut’s social disintegration still would create plenty of need for police work. But then that is all the more reason not to let collective bargaining get in the way of public safety.Suppressing the police strike in Boston in 1919, Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge famously remarked, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” That forthright declaration of democratic principle raised Coolidge ultimately to the presidency. While Connecticut half-heartedly outlaws strikes by government employees, the state still gives its employees great control over how much safety is to be afforded the public, as Malloy’s laying off the troopers and prison supervisors shows. For neither the governor nor the whole of state government can decide on their own just how many troopers and prison supervisors should be hired and what the terms of their employment will be. Disgracefully, even the highest managers in the state police are unionized now.What is the public interest in constraining public safety this way? Other than to please a special interest that dominates Connecticut’s ruling political party, why shouldn’t the public’s elected officials alone have the power to determine the terms of public safety — or, for that matter, the terms of all government employment?Maybe what has begun with the troopers and prison supervisors is another game of chicken like the one just ended between the governor and the other state employee unions. Maybe the troopers and prison supervisors will come around once the layoffs seem to be sticking, and maybe then the public interest and democratic control of public institutions will be restored — as they have been maintained lately in Wisconsin. In that state, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who has become the nemesis of the government class and the political left, won passage of legislation to curtail public employee collective bargaining rights and thereby save money. But having won such legislation, Walker didn’t lay anyone off. By contrast, taking the approach of Malloy, a liberal Democrat who has exalted collective bargaining for public employees, Connecticut has saved little but has endured thousands of layoffs anyway — the first wave being canceled only to be followed now by layoffs of public safety personnel.In which state has the public been better served? Under Connecticut law, is serving the public even the objective?While the University of Connecticut’s varsity sports teams have achieved many championships in recent years and have thereby built enormous support for the university, UConn’s new president, Susan Herbst, has decided that what most urgently needs reforming at the university is … the athletic department. So Herbst’s first order of business was to hire an expensive consulting firm to contrive reasons to fire UConn’s longtime athletic director, Jeff Hathaway, though she already had decided to replace him on the basis of consultation with her own small circle. Herbst came to UConn this summer insisting that the university didn’t waste money, ignoring the scandal just weeks earlier about the huge salaries being paid to university police executives. As Herbst undertook to remove Hathaway, it was disclosed that the UConn Health Center long has been paying nurses overtime nearly equal to their base salaries rather than hire much cheaper part-time nurses — and maintains this policy only because the nurses union likes it. Now the nurses overtime issue has been absorbed into Gov. Malloy’s review of overtime throughout state government, letting Herbst off the hook for her embarrassing obliviousness.A top administrator is entitled to choose her top assistants. But a good administrator doesn’t needlessly humiliate someone who has given long and conscientious service. Herbst could have told Hathaway confidentially that she wanted to install her own athletic director and given him a limited time to move on. Instead she spent tens of thousands of dollars on a consultant and then maybe $700,000 on severance pay. As with the police executives and the overtime for the nurses, money continues to be no object at UConn. Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.