Governor Dannel Malloy's budget guru, Benjamin Barnes, responded with frustration to talk from state bargaining units that they will not budge on renegotiating their benefit packages as a way to save taxpayers money.
“We are on the cusp of laying off thousands of state employees and if we can lay off fewer of those state employees and preserve more services and avoid disrupting more lives by making moderate concessions on employee benefits I don’t see why we wouldn’t have those discussions" said Barnes, the appointed Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.
"That seems like a very reasonable ask" he said.
Gov. Malloy said during his State of the State Address last month that he would seek to reopen negotiations with SEBAC, the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, that works on behalf of the more than 45,000 union state employees working in Connecticut government.
Last week, Gov. Malloy's Undersecretary of Labor Relations sent a letter to SEBAC's legal counsel, asking to reopen negotiations and to meet.
SEBAC's legal counsel then responded with a letter saying they would be open to a meeting, but said any possibility of reopening negotiations is up to rank and file members and union leadership.
In a statement, the Connecticut State Employees Association, in conjunction with the SEIU, sent a statement slamming the process by which the Malloy Administration is attempting to balance the budget which faces a $250 million shortfall this year, and in excess of $900 million next year.
The groups want to see the line held on benefits, and increases on Connecticut's wealthiest residents to close the gap.
"All working families contribute taxes at nearly twice the rate that that millionaires and billionaires do to fund vital services. It’s time to stop using state employees as a punching bag and start pushing for a revenue system that asks our wealthiest and most successful individuals to pay their fair share" the statement read.
Republicans are siding with Governor Malloy.
Rep. Themis Klarides, (R - Derby), the House Minority Leader said she thinks the unions believe the governor is bluffing about the possibility of laying off as many as 3,000 employees, nearly 10% of the state workforce.
She says to avoid such a scenario, SEBAC negotiators have to come to the table.
“This isn’t about bad unions" Rep. Klarides said. "We have a very serious fiscal situation and we need everybody to help. We need all hands on deck.”
Barnes with OPM, speaking on behalf of the Malloy Administration, says when it comes to dollars and cents, it's in SEBAC's best interest to get members to approve a renegotiation, in order to save jobs.
“It is difficult for me to understand that they are not yet ready to come to the table" Barnes said.