Everybody, including Gov. Ned Lamont, assumes that state government’s latest contract with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, the infamous work of former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly’s Democratic majority, prevents any changes in state government’s labor expenses for years to come.
That’s what the state employee unions want everybody to think, but it’s wrong. In fact state government is only as helpless in the face of the unions as it wants to be.
With sufficient political will state government could simply put the unions out of business by suspending or repealing collective bargaining for state and municipal employee unions and binding arbitration of their contracts. This would be done if Connecticut’s prospects were understood to be desperate enough, and they are about as desperate as they could be, short of nuclear war.
After all, the public gains nothing from collective bargaining and binding arbitration in government labor relations. Those practices only destroy the public’s sovereignty. Any serious prospect of curtailing these practices might induce the unions to make concessions.
As for the tens of billions of dollars in unfunded pension and benefit liabilities hanging over state government, there is no public interest in providing defined-benefit pensions to state and municipal employees when most ordinary taxpayers must rely for their retirements on defined-contribution 401k and IRA plans. Even now state government could outlaw defined-benefit pensions for new hires in state and municipal government, eliminating substantial expense right away and more every year.
Additionally, state government could require its current employees to contribute much more to their pensions, the current contribution being small by national standards.
Though during his campaign for governor last year candidate Lamont said he would negotiate concessions with the state employee unions, he has failed to do so. Instead he seeks concessions only from taxpayers, as with highway tolls and expansion of the sales tax.
Of course this is because state and municipal government employees are the core of the governor’s party, the Democratic Party. While their unions often complain about the supposed concessions they already have made, their costs in wages and benefits nevertheless rise every year, those concessions affecting only the rate of increase in their compensation.
Thus state government has become primarily a pension and benefit society for government employees, and only secondarily a mechanism for public services.
The supremacy of Connecticut’s government employee unions was displayed again last week when the Hearst newspapers reported that state government’s new contract with the state police union does a lot more than provide raises. It also nullifies public access to state police personnel records that ordinarily would be available under Connecticut’s freedom-of-information law.
How can a mere union contract cancel the rights given to the public by state law? It’s because another state law specifically subordinates public sovereignty to union contracts this way. It’s an outrage that was slipped into statute years ago by the unions and compliant legislators when no one was looking. It conceals wrongdoing.
This year the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information asked the General Assembly to repeal the outrage but the legislature refused even to hold a hearing about it. Nothing can be allowed to get in the way of the pension and benefit society.