Thursday, May 26 2022

With 2022 looming as a pivotal year, state employee unions and their allies are acting preemptively to stop Governor Ned Lamont from accelerating the decline of Connecticut’s public sector.

Union leaders and their allies gathered on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to reject an administrative effort to gradually replace thousands of state workers with technology – especially as the coronavirus exacerbates the need for public services.

And with dozens of bargaining units entering or continuing contract negotiations in 2022, the coalition also urged state officials to support steep pay increases for a workforce that has endured hardships and hardships. considerable risks during the pandemic.

“It’s a crossroads we’re in right now, and we’re either going to have a solid recovery from the pandemic… or we’re going to fall flat,” said David Glidden, executive director of Local 2001 of CSEA-SEIU. . , which represents around 4,000 government employees, ranging from transportation planners, architects and engineers to information technology specialists and some Ministry of Education staff.

“And the key,” added Glidden, “is to invest in people, to invest in services.”

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, co-chair of the Children’s Legislative Committee, said the shortage of mental and behavioral health services for young people has reached crisis proportions in Connecticut and the workforce government cannot afford to lose caregivers in this field.

“The first step will be to make sure that we are providing support to the existing workforce,” said Anwar.

And while the need for workers in this field is acute, it is far from the only area of ​​concern. More importantly, added Anwar and other union activists, these needs come at the worst possible time.

The state workforce is trapped in the midst of a perfect storm of pressure that worries union leaders.

Before the coronavirus struck here in March 2020, the state’s executive workforce had suffered nearly a decade of decline that reduced its numbers by 10%. Between 2011 and 2018, Governor Dannell P. Malloy and the General Assembly frequently relied on worker attrition to help close annual budget deficits, despite warnings from analysts and non-partisan unions about the lack of personnel in major departments, including transport and correction.

The 2017 legislature also passed a law directing the governor to investigate another major labor force contraction, particularly taking advantage of a huge increase in retirements slated for 2022 and 2023.

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo’s office estimates that 12,500 state employees, or roughly 25 percent of the workforce, will be eligible for retirement in July 2022. And although Lembo doesn’t anticipate that many will be leaving their jobs. employment, this pool of potentials is much larger than the 2,185 workers – on average – who retired each year between 2017 and 2021.

Lamont, who took office in January 2019, hired the Boston Consulting Group in the fall of 2020 to implement the 2017 legislature directive. Boston Consulting has developed a strategy to gradually reduce the annual staff costs of $ 500 million by the mid-2020s, much of it using new technology to replace retirees in a wide variety of occupations.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which includes most of the major state government unions, pushed workers not to cooperate with this company and urged lawmakers to back down.

“The Lamont administration has not created the cliff of retirement,” Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said on Wednesday. It also didn’t create the downsizing trend that started a decade ago or the long-term retirement debt that drove that effort.

“What the Lamont administration has done is find ways to ensure that our residents will not see any disruption in service,” said Reiss, adding that the planned transition could also improve the efficiency of many services.

Lamont proposed modest staff savings in the budget he presented to lawmakers last February. And with the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic, the administration has said the state’s effort to rationalize the workforce may have to progress more slowly – but will always continue.

But the coming year also marks a state election cycle, and Lamont, a Greenwich Democrat running for reelection, is expected to seek solid support from the unions again, as he did during his campaign. from 2018.

And while union leaders say this workforce rationalization initiative was and remains fundamentally flawed and will weaken services, they add that the dangers it poses have been magnified since the coronavirus hit Connecticut.

The pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on health care, social services and education, union leaders said. Connecticut has also struggled for decades with economic development and transportation, and COVID-19 has left many segments of the state’s economy in dire straits.

According to the Department of Labor, Connecticut still has about 45,000 tax filers receiving weekly unemployment benefits.

The Recovery For All CT coalition, a core team of labor and faith-based organizations – including many members of SEBAC – is fighting to preserve public services in all areas.

Puya Gerami, the executive director of the coalition, said these services cannot be preserved if public sector jobs are lost. And after state officials in health care, education, social services, transportation, public safety, and prisons and so many other groups risked their lives just by going to work during the Last year and a half, keeping jobs means providing good pay.

“We believe that state agents have sacrificed everything to keep this state afloat and continue to sacrifice everything during this ongoing pandemic,” he added. “These are the people who work in the most important conditions.”

Reiss responded that while the Lamont administration would not negotiate employment contracts through the media, the governor has repeatedly said that frontline workers who need to report to work despite the risks of coronavirus should be properly compensated.

“We absolutely respect and will listen to our organized labor partners,” Reiss said.

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