Thursday, August 18, 2011

Malloy’s Carrot And Cattle Prod

Politically, Governor Dannel Malloy could not afford yet another union “No” vote on his revised budget plan and, accordingly, the leaders of state unions have been more or less laying down the law to rank and file union members.

Some pro-union Democrats, Jonathan Pelto among them thought the governor had been wielding his big stick a bit too exuberantly. Mr. Malloy’s Plan A, rejected by the union rank and file, was generally regarded as being soft on sacrifice, a point emphasized by union leaders in a memo to rank and file workers sent out prior to the vote affirming Plan A2.

Mr. Malloy’s “clarified” plan following the disappointing union vote is, according to the memo, an agreement that guarantees union members security:

“We would receive four years of job security, an extension of our health care and pension plans to 2022, an irrevocable trust fund to insure there will always be retiree health care, three years of wage increases, a reaffirmation of the independence of the state employee health plan, and contract protection lasting through 2016. Additionally, all of the layoffs, anti-union legislation, and faculty/office closures would be reversed.”

Not a bad deal there, considering the sacrifices unions in other states have been forced to make in the interests of balanced budgets. Additionally, the union memo warned rank and file members, “there is legislation pending on the House calendar that would limit collective bargaining, with the goal ultimately of taking away our ability to bargain over health care and pensions.”

If Mr. Malloy’s initial plan had been long on carrot, the propaganda effort launched by union leaders in concert with Mr. Malloy to persuade their rank and file members to accept a slightly revised Plan A was, many political commentators might agree, equally long on stick. Even dyed in the wool union collaborators in the General Assembly considered Plan A beneficial to union interests, as witness Senator Edith Prague’s astonished gasp upon its rejection. Mrs. Prague -- and other ardent union defenders in the General Assembly, among them Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and President of the Senate Don Williams -- is to union interests what General George Patton was to the Third Army during the Second World War.

Union leaders, working hand in glove with Mr. Malloy, were determined to steer Plan A2 past rank and file union naysayers, and for this reason both union leaders and Mr. Malloy belabored labor with a big stick. Union by-laws were changed to accommodate a “Yes” vote. And though “the world has changed since even a few weeks ago,” as the union memo proclaimed, the leaders of some union units had decided they would not allow rank and file members who previously voted Yes on Plan A to change their votes. The Malloy administration, using the union communications pipeline, announced prior to the vote that negligent union members who vote No on Plan A2 would be subject to sanctions: their jobs will not be secure. Job security could only be achieved by voting “Yes” on the revised plan.

Legislative leaders had also pulled mightily on the oars. Over the muted protestations of reliable union supporters in the General Assembly such as House Speaker Chris Donovan, Mr. Malloy had asked the General Assembly for extraordinary rescission authority that would give him the power to lay off workers to meet his budget goals. That rescission authority could be applied to balance the books – even after Mr. Malloy’s Plan A2 had sailed past whipped union rank and file members.

The possibility alarmed pro union legislators such as Senator Toni Harp, for five terms a leader of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, who had suddenly discovered the doctrine of the separation of powers months after the Democratic dominated General Assembly had approve a budget that was, prior to the union vote, billions of dollars out of balance.

Although Mr. Malloy’s slightly revised Plan A was this time overwhelmingly affirmed by rank and file state union members by a vote of 25,713 to 9,291 – Given the electric cattle prods used by Mr. Malloy as inducements to change votes, how could the plan fail to pass? – there are some loose ends to be tidied up. A claim before the State Labor Department filed by Lisa Herskowitz, a senior assistant state's attorney in Manchester, that the SEBAC state labor union leadership had no legal authority to negotiate wage concessions for the 15 state labor unions and no authority to change the bylaws when the deal was rejected may prove to be a thorny problem.

Should Ms. Herskowitz’s suit reach the courts, pity the judge who must decide it. Mr. Malloy’s cattle prod is fully charged and he is on speaking terms with newly reappointed Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.

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