Of the 189 union contracts that have been presented to the General Assembly since 1991, 124 have been passed without a vote in either the House or the Senate, according to a report released by the Office of Legislative Research.
Under Connecticut statute, collective bargaining contracts are deemed approved if they have not been voted on within 30 days.
Conversely, union members must vote to approve collective bargaining agreements.
Of the remaining contracts, 55 have been approved through a vote in both the House and Senate, while 10 were approved by the Senate but not voted on in the House, according to OLR.
The report comes after lawmakers proposed numerous bills during the 2017 legislative session to require votes on collective bargaining agreements.
Union leaders decried such efforts and claimed that requiring a legislative vote would turn collective bargaining contracts into a “political football,” and turn Connecticut into “Arkansas.”
But contained within those contracts are provisions which contribute to Connecticut’s ongoing deficit problems. Fixed costs such as pensions and retiree healthcare benefits are set in collective bargaining agreements and those costs – combined with lower income tax receipts – have left Connecticut facing a $5.1 billion deficit which threatens service cuts and layoffs.
According to the report, the contracts passed without a vote “include major pension and health care agreements with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), wage and hour agreements with individual bargaining units, arbitration awards, and numerous stipulated agreements and memoranda of understanding that make relatively minor revisions to existing bargaining unit contracts.”
Also contained within those contracts are “supersedence appendices” which override and change Connecticut state law to meet the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The appendices essentially allow the governor and unions to rewrite state statutes without debate in the legislature and, in most cases, without a vote by lawmakers.
Contract negotiations between the governor and union leadership are held in secret and in June, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced a tentative $1.5 billion concession deal with union leadership to help close the budget deficit.
The agreement offers wage freezes and increased employee contributions toward pensions and healthcare in exchange for another contract extension and layoff protections.
The concessions agreement would have to be voted on by union rank and file who have lately soured on their approval of the governor. The negotiated agreement would then be put to the House and Senate where it could either be voted on or deemed approved after thirty days.
The possible extension of the existing SEBAC contract could tie the hands of the next two governors and prevent them from making any substantive changes to employee benefits. Republican leadership is urging the legislature to reject the governor’s deal, potentially setting up an important and contentious vote that will affect Connecticut for the next ten years.
Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed a rule change the first day of the 2017 session to require the chamber to vote on all contracts. That measure was blocked by Democrats, who still hold a small majority in the House.
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, is an employee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Connecticut is one of the few remaining states that do not require a legislative vote on collective bargaining agreements and one of only four states that set retirement benefits through collective bargaining rather than in state statute.
However, as the legislature has become more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, recent union contracts have received more scrutiny, including a vote on one agreement and the withdrawal of another.
In May the legislature voted on Malloy’s deal with the unions to extend payments on the unfunded pension liabilities until 2046. That agreement was approved by the Democrat controlled House but came to a tie in the evenly split Senate.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman cast the deciding vote in favor of the reamoritzaiton of the payments, which will peak in 2032 and cost taxpayers $2.2 billion per year. Currently, the pension payments cost $1.6 billion per year.
A 2016 collective bargaining agreement, which would have given raises to University of Connecticut employees during a time of deficits and layoffs, was withdrawn from consideration after lawmakers expressed public disapproval of the contract.