Updated 7:20 p.m.
Gov. Dannel Malloy and two members of Senate Democratic leadership announced their opposition to the University of Connecticut’s proposed four-year contract with the school’s labor union for professional employees.
The union, the UConn Professional Employees Association (UCPEA), is responsible for negotiating the terms of 1,900 non-teaching employees’ contracts. It is the largest union at the university. The proposed contract would increase the wages of those employees between 3 percent and 4.5 percent in each of the next four years.
“This contract was negotiated in good faith, and I appreciate the work of UConn and UCPEA,” Malloy said. “At the same time, agreements negotiated between labor and management must reflect our new economic reality. This contract, which was negotiated last year, does not.
“I urge the General Assembly to reject this contract, and respectfully ask that UConn and UCPEA return to the bargaining table.”
Senate President Pro Temp Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, released a joint statement shortly after the governor, voicing their concerns about the contract and joining Malloy’s call to reject the contract.
“We believe that the contract is not sustainable at this time, especially in light of the projected revenue decline announced last week following the vote in the Appropriations Committee,” the statement said. “We are afraid that, if approved, the contract will lead to massive layoffs and painful tuition increases forcing talented Connecticut students out of state.”
Republican leaders have been calling for the rejection of the contract since its arrival in early February. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said at a press conference last Thursday the contract represents “the wrong path” for a state in need of a tighter budget.
UConn deputy spokesman Tom Breen said in a statement the university believes the contract is “fair and responsible,” but conceded the General Assembly’s decision is final.
The contract as proposed would cost the university an additional $24.4 million over the next five years, according to the university’s estimates. However, a non-partisan evaluation of the proposed contract by the governor’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) found it could cost as much as $94 million.
While the Senate appears to be preparing for a vote, the House has not signaled whether it will do the same.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying he and other legislators have had similar concerns about the contract.
“Unfortunately, UConn seems to have negotiated this contract without considering the state’s overall budget challenges, and the only way to pay for it is through more taxpayer dollars, tuition hikes or layoffs, which are not good solutions,” Sharkey said in the statement. “I appreciate the governor’s input and only wish he had sounded the alarm with UConn administrators before this contract was agreed to.”
The state Appropriations Committee considered the contract on Feb. 23, with the Senate members voting to reject it in a 6-6 tie and the House members approving it 24-19.
If either chamber of the state legislature votes to reject the contract, the university will be forced to return to negotiations with UCPEA. The existing contract expires at the end of June, and a new contract must be approved by the state legislature before it can take effect.
The legislature has until March 9 to vote on the contract. If neither chamber votes to reject the contract, it is automatically approved.
Should the legislature vote to reject the contract, it would be the first time in nearly two decades this has happened. The last time was in 1997.
Under the terms of the proposed contract, UCPEA employees would shift from working 35 hours per week to 40 hours. The deal also calls for annual merit pay hikes of about 1 percent each year and an across-the-board 2 percent pay increase in the first year of the new contract with 1 percent pay increases in the next four years.
This would result in professionals at the university receiving a 3 percent pay increase in the 2017 fiscal year and 4.5 percent pay increases each year through 2021.
Despite the fact that proposed contract would add to the university’s $38 million budget deficit, UConn CFO Scott Jordan told members of the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 23 that he did not know how it would be paid for.
Instead, Jordan told committee members the contract should be approved on principle and that determining necessary cuts to cover the pay increases for it would come later.
These proposed pay increases have drawn the ire of some state legislators, given the state’s fiscal crisis. The February revised numbers from the state’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projects Connecticut is facing a $900 million shortfall in next year’s budget – up from an earlier projection of just over $500 million.
Malloy’s proposed budget would cut $570 million in state spending, including $31.2 million from UConn’s state funding. However, Malloy said he is looking to propose additional cuts in light of the new deficit projections and will not consider increasing taxes.
In a memo from OPM secretary Benjamin Barnes released Wednesday, he said the proposed contract terms, if applied to all union contracts in the state, would cost $1 billion over the next five years.
Barnes also called into question the legality of the contract’s “phased retirement plan,” which would allow employees to declare retirement three years in advance and then work fewer hours each year while still receiving full benefits. Barnes said allowing UConn to determine retirement terms and benefits would violate the state executive branch’s legal mandate to negotiate them directly through the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC).
“This will serve to undermine coalition bargaining and strip the executive’s exclusive statutory authority to negotiate benefits,” Barnes said in the memo. “It will allow other state employers … to pursue benefit agreements simply by superceding the very act that limits their authority to bargain non-benefit issues.”