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Lamont to Veto Bill Providing State Aid to Strikers

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Gov. Ned Lamont met the press in his office Thursday, the day after the end of the legislative session. Credit: MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
Mark Pazniokas / CT Mirror

Gov. Ned Lamont, a business-friendly Democrat twice endorsed by labor, said Thursday he will veto a Connecticut AFL-CIO priority bill that would have created a $3 million state fund to assist strikers without explicitly saying so. “I just think it was too cute by half,” Lamont said. “If you want to have public dollars to support striking workers, have a vote up or down: ‘I want public dollars to go to support striking workers.’”

The bill was drafted in the waning days of the session as an attempt to sidestep Lamont’s objection to another proposal that was labor’s preference — letting striking workers qualify for unemployment after two weeks on the picket line. The hope was Lamont would become amenable to a compromise that attempted to do much the same thing outside the unemployment system, sparing employers from a potential rate increase in their unemployment insurance premiums.

“It removed the burden from business and shifted it to the taxpayer,” said Chris DiPentima, the president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “That’s not a good use of taxpayer money.” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who cut a deal with the Republican minority that allowed passage Wednesday night in the final minutes of the 2024 session, could not be reached for comment. Ed Hawthorne, the AFL-CIO president who celebrated the passage just 12 hours earlier, texted his disappointment but was unavailable to talk about the veto’s impact on Lamont’s relationship with labor.

“We are deeply disappointed that Gov. Lamont plants to veto this critical pro-worker legislation,” Hawthorne said. “This legislation would give countless workers a fair shot to negotiate a living wage and affordable benefits.” The legislation would have shifted $3 million in unexpended funds held by the state comptroller’s office to a new “Connecticut families and workers account” and direct the comptroller to use it “for the purposes of assisting low-income workers.

The House passed the bill Friday night on a 90-59 vote, with seven Democrats and 52 Republicans opposed. No Republican voted for the measure, but the GOP caucus offered tacit consent by agreeing not to debate, much less filibuster. The Senate passed it Wednesday on a party-line vote, with one abstention, Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury. Comptroller Sean Scanlon would have had sole discretion to set standards for paying benefits from the fund, most likely through regulations he would have had to submit for review to the legislature’s bipartisan Regulation Review Committee.

“It’s really important the governor stood up. He said from the beginning he didn’t like this concept,” said DiPentima, who criticized efforts to make it more palatable. “It was a complete work-around.” Lamont largely agreed Thursday, but he appeared less than eager to reject the labor bill. 

The governor has bucked unions on fiscal issues, opposing revisions to spending caps  he says have stabilized Connecticut’s finances and improved its business environment. But he has stood with them by supporting raises to the minimum wage, creation of a family and medical leave program, and this year’s bill expanding the limited mandate on private employers to provide paid sick days.

Meeting with reporters in his office to discuss the session, he repeatedly declined to directly answer when asked if he would sign or veto the strikers bill. “I don’t support it,” he said. Does that mean a veto? “I’m not gonna support it,” Lamont said. “Let me see what we end up with. Let me take a look at it. It’s so damn vague. I don’t really know what’s in it.” He was pressed again to answer, reminded that he had been told by legislative leaders exactly what was the intent before the vote as midnight approached.

“That said, everything I know about it, I’m not going to support it,” Lamont said. “If you want to do this, have a have a real vote next year, so people know what they’re voting on, not at 11:45” p.m. He acknowledged he does not support the concept of jobless benefits for strikers, but he cast that opinion in the context of being a friend to labor, especially the right to organize. He noted that makes him an anomaly in his hometown, where he founded a cable television company.

“I’m, you know, one of the six pro-union guys in Greenwich, Conn. I think because the union movement was not strong over the last 30 years, we’ve hollowed out our middle class, especially when it comes to the service sector,” Lamont said. “I want to make sure that we have a strong labor that’s able to negotiate at the table. Does that mean I want the taxpayers subsidizing striking workers? I don’t think I do.”

It was only as the press conference broke up that Lamont confirmed a veto was coming — even if he never uttered the word. He was asked: Would it be incorrect to report that he intends to veto the bill? Lamont smiled and replied, “No.”