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Connecticut's Union Battle

A Democratic governor struggles to deal with fiscal realities and placate his union allies.

1:45 PM, May 16, 2011 • By BILL MCMORRIS
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Talks with labor leaders began in late February and both sides say the meetings remain amicable. Details of the discussions are murky thanks to a media embargo, but Malloy is certainly at a disadvantage both legally and politically. The 1997 collective bargaining agreement negotiated by Rowland lasts until 2017, meaning workers do not need to come to the table. Complicating the matter for Malloy is the fact that 9 of the state’s 13 public employee unions endorsed him in the election.

Like the governor, Luciano has a knack for veiled communications. Just ask him the difference between concessions and savings in budget talks.

“Concessions are bloody, that’s money out of our wallet; savings, that’s not money out of our wallets,” he said.

When this former social worker says bloody, he means it. He pauses to make sure every letter is spelled out. Luciano looks every bit the labor representative, recalling Danny DeVito’s union diehard in the film Hoffa. He appears at rallies in jeans and a sport coat, but dresses down when addressing the General Assembly, usually in a green union windbreaker.

He never uses the word “I,” and in interviews, he will never talk of union leadership. He uses “our members” as a surrogate when he toes the line of controversy. Asked whether the union could support Malloy if he follows through with concessions, he replied, “in politics there are consequences… Our members are not stupid — they see what’s happening.”

He has a goatee and a gruff voice with a hint of the Italian Bronx seeping through when he gets going; he speaks quickly when outlining numbers and in a frenzy when he tries to sneak something into a talking point.

When Sal Luciano pauses, though, it is no accident. He pauses when he exclaims incredulously that former Aetna CEO Ron Williams cashed in on $72 million in 2010. And he pauses when he says “bloody.” The flash of silence sends more of a message than Luciano allows himself during a media embargo.

Malloy need only look at Democrats in Massachusetts, the state that pioneered generous retirement benefits to state workers and now faces fiscal calamity as a result. A super majority Democratic House passed collective bargaining restrictions mirroring those of union-busting Scott Walker and subsequently faced off against hundreds of angry union members. Former allies make the worst foes.

Union members complained of scapegoating at all of Malloy’s townhalls. They generally push the critique that Malloy does not tax top earners enough. He raises the income tax for the top tier by 3 percent — to 6.7 percent — compared to a 10 percent increase on those earning more than $50,000 — to 5.5 percent. The governor has seemingly entertained the idea before pointing out that the rich have the ability to move, as well as pay.

Malloy modified his tune on April 14, when he announced an updated budget to the state, as a result of his townhall tour. He expanded the pool of high earners, raising taxes on those making $125,000 and over, while giving those making less than $100,000 a $300 tax credit.

Malloy seems to appreciate the public relations success that has come with a calm labor climate or perhaps the unions will be more willing to negotiate now that he is soaking the rich. Maybe he increased the taxes to appease the 48 percent of Connecticut voters who said his budget needed more upper tier taxes. Either way, it all hinges on the concessions.

If he does not get them, Malloy may discover that Connecticut does not want a governor who “actually believes in government, and believes in unions at the same time.” If he does, he may find that believing in unions isn’t enough; you have to stay away from their wallets, too.

Bill McMorris is managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog and a 2010 Phillips Foundation fellow.

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