Spending committee approves state worker increases over GOP objections

Suburban Republican taxpayers joined minority GOP members of the General Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday in attacking the proposed four-year, $1.9 billion contract with 46,000 unionized workers in the state.

But Democratic majorities passed the separate House and Senate resolutions along party lines.

Accusing that the current contract with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, or SEBAC, is an election-year giveaway, opponents have suggested that the state, despite having tax revenue and federal support for the pandemic era, is not expected to accept the deal, which includes 2.5% salary increases, up to $3,500 in retention bonuses and a reopening clause for final-year salaries, which will would end on June 30, 2025.

The partisan opposition, which emerged in a public hearing on Monday, will likely become a theme of legislative week, when for the first time the House and Senate vote on contracts for 35 bargaining units under the banner of the SEBAC coalition. Previous agreements could expire without debates or votes at the General Assembly.

“They’re overworked and fed up,” said Kim Healy of Wilton, a CPA, who volunteers as a tax consultant for low-income state residents who she says are facing rising inflation. 8% and at some of the highest tax and electricity rates. in the nation. “People want to know where their tax money is going,” Healy said. “They want to know who is defending them. This agreement was negotiated in secret, it seems.

Healy, who unsuccessfully campaigned against State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport in 2020, said if negotiations between Gov. Ned Lamont’s labor team had been opened to public scrutiny, taxpayers would have got a better deal, more in line with the private sector.

“Our nonprofits and many of our small businesses are still suffering from state-mandated COVID restrictions,” she said. “We should use the savings from a better-negotiated deal to support them appropriately and over the long term. The SEBAC deal is a bad deal, I believe, for Connecticut. He is deaf and seems to even ordinary people like me pandering to special interests in an election year.

Numerous people testified in favor of the agreement, mainly members or unit leaders of the SEBAC unions, including prison guards, Labor Department investigators, social workers, university professors, workers from the Department of Transportation and a dentist from the Department of Correction. They told the committee that the state workforce has waived raises in six of the past 12 years; had lost over 4,000 members, leaving many agencies overworked; and had worked under difficult pandemic conditions.

Greenwich’s Andreas Duus, the former chairman of that city’s Board of Estimate and Taxation, also called on lawmakers to reject the deal. “Last year, the state would have suffered a substantial operating loss had we not received special federal pandemic relief funding,” Duus said. “If we didn’t get the extra taxes from last year’s historic stock market gains. Also, we should probably better account for the cost of future retirement expenses more fairly.

Red Jahncke of Greenwich, chairman of Townsned Group International, LLC., said it’s not true that state employees are leaving for more lucrative jobs in the private sector, as described by members and executives. Connecticut unions.

“Connecticut state workers earn 33% more than comparable private sector employees,” Jahncke said. “I think the portrayal that the state workforce is at risk of losing employees to the private sector runs counter to this evidence that has been developed in a very comprehensive study.”

Andrew G. Biggs, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which carried out the study, told the committee that while wages are about 5% lower than those in the similar private sector, health and pension benefits are significantly better – about $16,000 a year – for Connecticut’s public unions than their private sector counterparts.

But State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the committee, said she disagreed with the study’s findings. She noted that in recent years, new employees in state public sector unions have 401(k)-style pensions.

“Over the past decade, we’ve saved $100 million less, both in salaries and medical costs for state employees, than a decade ago,” Osten said. “I fundamentally disagree with many of your assumptions, based on the changes that have been made to the pension scheme and the medical scheme.”

Dan Livingston, an attorney who is SEBAC’s lead negotiator, noting that the contracts are retroactive to July 1, 2021, said an arbitrator ruled one of the bargaining units deserved a 3% raise for the first year. The state is saving money by giving them 2.5% hikes, he said.

“The deal before you is the first since the start of the Great Recession in 2008 that was not negotiated in the midst of a fiscal crisis,” Livingston said. “The three previous agreements…contributed to ongoing savings of more than $3 billion in each biennium.”

Lamont, at an unrelated Bridgeport event on Monday in Bridgeport, held to the contractual agreement.

“A general salary increase of 2.5% plus a $3,000 bonus and you’re in the middle of an 8.5% inflation world, look, I think that’s a good deal,” he said. he declared. “This is a fair deal for state employees who have shown up every day in the midst of COVID. I need to recruit them and keep them to keep our government running, I think it’s a good deal for taxpayers when you see where we are in terms of the high cost of living right now.

Asked about estimates from a conservative think tank, the contract could represent a 15% increase over four years, saying bonuses do not count as compounding the pay rise as they are one-time amounts.

“But ultimately, over three years, if they say it’s 15, 16 [percent] look at that versus the rate of inflation,” Lamont said. “I think it’s a fair deal.”

In response to a question about bonuses that could be paid to workers retiring in July, the governor said they have always earned it – noting that agencies such as the Department of Transportation lack hundreds of engineers, designers and architects.

“One, they’ve worked really hard, it’s been a really good year for the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “This is the third year in a row that we have had a surplus. Part of this is due to the incredibly hard work of our state employees. I come from the private sector, when you do a good job you get a bonus. What costs too much is not having a compensation plan that retains your workers and attracts very good workers.

The committee, also along party lines, also approved a contract with 2,200 graduate assistants at state universities.

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