Union Negotiator: Connecticut Agreement Best in Nation

Published June 18, 2011

Workers around the nation envy Connecticut state employees, according to their lead negotiator.

Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), said other unions want to learn how to imitate their success in negotiating with Gov. Dannel Malloy (D).

Livingston told a meeting of state employees in June he would be attending a national meeting of union leaders to teach them, according to three videos posted online by union officials.

“I wasn’t invited there because of me. I was invited there because of you all and what this agreement stands for and what you all helped achieve,” he said. “It is unknown in this country. They want to know how we did it.”

Dubious Concession Claims
The tentative agreement, according to Malloy, contains $1.6 billion in union concessions. However, legislative Republicans, the Office of Fiscal Analysis, and others have called the value of the concession deal into question. The Malloy administration has provided documents allegedly supporting $1 billion of the total.

Livingston, a lawyer with Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly in Hartford, said he was angry at Malloy for making the tentative agreement sound worse than it is for state employees but also understood why Malloy did it.

He said the agreement stands out because of four years of promised job security and 11 years of healthcare and pension guarantees, plus future wage increases. According to Livingston, the agreement also increases pensions for Tier II and Tier IIA employees and changes a rule that could have prevented workers from spiking their pensions.

11-Year Agreement
“Now we have an 11-year agreement. I wish it was still 20,” Livingston said. “But 11 years is still unheard of in the country. There’s no one else with an 11-year pension and healthcare agreement. You all, if you ratify this, have security that no other state worker in the country has, and I’d venture to say no other private sector workers.”

Livingston said the negotiators refused to talk with Malloy without a promise of job security.

“The agreement that you’re reviewing has four years’ job security. Nowhere else in the country will you find four years’ job security,” he said. “Nowhere else in the country will you find workers who know they won’t be laid off for four years no matter what happens.”

Health Insurance Guarantee
According to Livingston, the unions wanted to extend the SEBAC contract—a 20-year agreement dating back to 1997—to avoid losing benefits when it expired. He said the agreement guarantees retiree healthcare—which would have ended in six years—until 2022.

“That benefit was scheduled to disappear in 2017,” he said. “Retiree healthcare is the benefit that everybody has in this room that virtually nobody else in the country has. Retiree healthcare is the benefit that we were most afraid we would lose in 2017.

“Six years from now they can change pension benefits. Six years from now they could not even negotiate pension benefits if the legislature changed the law as they’re doing in many states throughout the country,” Livingston said. “We said, ‘We’re not going to talk to you if only six years from now you can screw us.'”

Livingston said the union leaders told Malloy, “We’re not signing up for wage freezes and then guesses about what’s going to happen next.”

Raises Resume in Two Years
He said the agreement calls for no increase for the next two years and then 3 percent increases for the following three years.

“Giving up the raise this year, that’s a sacrifice,” said Livingston. “Anybody who tells you it’s not a sacrifice is full of it. It’s a sacrifice. I get it. It sucks.”

Livingston said the unions have been trying to fix a problem with the Tier II breakpoint since 1981, when it was first negotiated, and the tentative agreement accomplishes that goal.

“And what it means is we’re actually going to improve pensions for current state workers starting in 2013,” he said. “Now, the governor doesn’t exactly report it that way in the press because of the whole shared sacrifice, etc.”

Violations for Workers’ Benefits
Livingston said previous administrations violated the SEBAC agreement—to the benefit of state employees—by treating voluntary overtime the same way as mandatory overtime when calculating pensions.

“They could have changed it at any moment, which means that the pensions of a lot of people in this room could have been lowered. So we got language included which will protect people in this room from that happening by raising that cap,” he said. “The bottom line is we changed things to prevent people in this room from having their pensions lowered unilaterally by the governor, because the governor could have done that and been in compliance with the agreement.”

Livingston said 14 of the 15 voting units within SEBAC have to ratify the agreement by majority vote for it to have effect. AFSCME approval is also required because it is large enough to veto the agreement even if it is the sole union opposed.

“If this deal gets voted down, there will be chaos; I will tell you that. There will not be a budget,” Livingston said. “It would take something like 12,000 to 15,000 layoffs to balance the budget.”

Zachary Janowski ([email protected]) is an investigative reporter for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.