There's an old joke about a preacher on the American frontier. He's riding a stagecoach to a revival meeting when a rainstorm starts. Shortly after the rain becomes torrential the coach gets stuck in a rut. When the preacher gets out in the rain to help push it back onto the road, he falls into the mud at the moment the vehicle's axle breaks. Standing shin-deep in a puddle the minister looks to the heavens and says, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."
We know how America's government employee unions and their political allies treat opponents, whom they always regard as enemies: comparing
them to Hitler, or casually threatening
murderous violence. What's more interesting is how the unions treat their friends, such as Connecticut's Democratic governor Dannel Malloy. Narrowly elected in 2010, Malloy set out to address Connecticut's budget deficit in a manner far more conciliatory to the government workers than the approaches taken by Republicans like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Chris Christie in New Jersey or John Kasich in Ohio. Even New York's Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo closed his state's budget deficit by rejecting any tax increase, which necessitated a three-year pay freeze for government workers, nine unpaid furlough days over two years, and higher health insurance premiums.
Malloy, by contrast, made clear the he was proudly lodged in the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. He described
the anti-union legislation advocated by Wisconsin's Republicans as "un-American" and "a travesty." He has called
himself the "anti-Christie," insisting
that Connecticut would follow "a slightly more intellectual approach" to its fiscal problems than New Jersey.
Not that there is anything particularly esoteric about the Malloy template. Where other states have tried to eliminate their deficits entirely through spending cuts, Malloy wants to mitigate such cuts in Connecticut by raising taxes. His "shared sacrifice" budget called for higher sales, income, gas, and estate taxes in Connecticut, $1.6 billion in concessions from public worker unions over a two-year period, and other budget cuts. The plan's success required negotiations with both the state legislature and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), the umbrella group representing 15 different unions of state employees. Even though the state's unions had strongly supported Malloy's campaign against his Republican opponent in 2010, forging an agreement over union concessions required
"months of intense negotiations and compromises."
The union negotiators conceded as little as they could, and the Malloy administration was far from adversarial in dealing with its friends. But it wasn't enough - the state's unionized workforce has rejected
the deal. The promise that no state workers would be laid off during the coming four years, in exchange for a wage-freeze and health and pension give-backs, apparently won a majority of the 45,000 unionized Connecticut state employees. Under SEBAC's complicated, solidarity-forever rules, however, the agreement could be scuttled if two of the 15 unions, or 20% of all union members voted against it. The issue was settled when 55% of employees represented by AFSCME, the biggest of the 15 unions in SEBAC, voted against the package.
Malloy now says that he will move directly to achieve the dollar-equivalent of the negotiated concessions by laying off 7,500 employees, 15% of the state's workforce. He has "ruled out a renegotiation" on the reasonable grounds that if the union representatives across the table for the past few months didn't have enough support from their members to deliver what they had promised, there's no point in securing new promises they may or may not be able to deliver. The Democratic state senator who chairs the labor and public employees committee in the legislature called
the SEBAC vote a "nightmare" and a "disaster." "Nobody in their right mind, under these circumstances, would turn down
that agreement," she added. "The private sector folks would die for this kind of
package." The senator promised that state employees will "never get another thing out of me."
When we were all reading about Laborgeddon in Wisconsin, a prominent argument
was that the Republican proposals to curb unions were gratuitous, since public employee unions understood clearly the gravity of the fiscal situation, and were fully prepared to responsibly negotiate the kinds of concessions necessary to help the state remain solvent. A reasonable guess would be that Gov. Malloy now considers such arguments to be as much of a travesty as the Wisconsin legislation he disparaged.