NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — While Republican Tom Foley attempted to assure Connecticut's largest labor organization Monday that he doesn't want to roll back collective bargaining rights, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy accused Foley, his chief GOP rival, of "going after labor" and pitched himself as the true friend to unions.
Foley, the endorsed Republican Party candidate for governor, has been criticized for saying Connecticut needs a "Wisconsin moment." At the opening day of the Connecticut AFL-CIO political convention in New Haven, Foley attempted to clarify that he didn't mean limiting collective bargaining rights, as was done in Wisconsin. Rather, Foley said, he meant changing the balance of power in Hartford, where the legislative and executive branches are controlled by Democrats — an explanation that prompted some of the nearly 300 delegates to snicker.
"Did I say something funny?" Foley asked the crowd, which had previously heard a rousing speech from a Wisconsin union leader who urged Connecticut union members not to be complacent about protecting union rights.
"This is a different state, with different citizens with different laws," Foley told reporters after his speech. "There's no reason to assume that somebody who says, 'Well, I think there should be more balance in our state government and I wish there were more Republicans in office' means that what Republicans did in some other state is what Republicans should do in Connecticut."
Foley said there's no opportunity in Connecticut to do what was done in Wisconsin, adding how it would be a "fool's errand" to try to roll back collective bargaining rights.
But both labor leaders and Malloy seized on the issue Monday, with the governor accusing his old 2010 election foe of trying to backtrack from his previous comments.
"Tom Foley, when he said he wanted a 'Wisconsin moment,' it wasn't about encouraging people to eat cheese. Let's be honest, we all knew what that meant, he knew what that meant," Malloy said. "What he was talking about is going after labor, which I equate is going after the middle class of the United States."
Lee Saunders, the national president of AFSCME, spoke of the importance of Connecticut's governor's race nationally and how the labor movement can't afford Connecticut becoming another Wisconsin. And while Foley says he's attracting support from union members across the state, Saunders melodramatically warned organized labor not to back him. Foley, a Greenwich businessman, still faces an August primary battle with Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.
"He will tell you anything and he will try to kill you if he gets elected," Saunders warned.
Foley also promised Monday not to reopen the labor deal that Malloy reached with most of the state employee unions, promising "a deal is a deal." A four-year no-layoff provision in the agreement is set to expire next year while provisions affecting state employee pensions and health care benefits won't expire until 2022.
That agreement caused a lot of friction between state employees and Malloy. And while the governor acknowledged having some fights with the unions and making mistakes, he reminded the crowd of his support for key union issues, including increasing the minimum wage, dedicating more state funds to education and transportation, signing paid sick leave legislation and supporting agreements that spell out the terms and employment conditions for specific construction projects. He also supported the rights of personal care attendants and child care workers to organize.
"I stand with labor," Malloy told the group. "I always have, I always will."