Reminding Politicians That Union Members Already "Saved the State Billions"

The news media last week thrust state employees' contractual benefits into the spotlight following Governor Ned Lamont's public remarks at his daily COVD-19 (novel coronavirus) briefing. His comments further renewed attempts by Republican legislators to push for unlawfully breaking collective bargaining agreements. Elected officials have clearly forgotten the significant labor savings already shoring up the state budget — and must adopt better policy choices than more concessions from union households.
The initial remarks were prompted by a reporter's question about an informal meeting four weeks earlier between Lamont Administration representatives and leaders of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC).
Click here for the coalition's internal May 9 update for affiliated unions.
The governor confirmed that his attempts to seek members delay or give back scheduled July 1 raises had failed. Absent from his remarks were the ongoing billions in savings produced by three successive SEBAC agreements over the previous 11 years.
"My fellow state workers are on the front lines of this crisis, providing critical public services and keeping our communities safe and healthy," said Shannon Martin. The 20-year veteran intake investigator in the department of Children and Families (DCF) was among several members of SEBAC unions to step up with a timely reminder. 
"Just as we are stepping up to protect our most vulnerable citizens, we have stepped up time and again to help the state get through past economic crises. Our sacrifices have generated billions of dollars in continued savings," added Martin, a member of Council 4 AFSCME's Local 2663. 
Martin also offered a policy prescription for elected officials. "It's time for the governor to ask the super-wealthy and big corporations to contribute their fair share the way rank-and-file state workers have," she added.
Click here for a recent letter to the editor Martin submitted to The Bristol Press urging better choices.
State House Republican leaders seized on the media coverage of the governor’s remarks to exploit the pandemic and renew their push for undermining collective bargaining rights. They repeated initial attempts from late April to persuade the Lamont Administration to break state employees’ contracts and unlawfully withhold the July 1 raises.
Click here for House Republican leaders’ June 11 letter to the governor.
Thousands of state employee union members have served on the frontline of the pandemic over the past three months. Countless more have delivered vital public services and kept Connecticut running while their facilities remained closed in order to slow the outbreak.
"I have adapted lessons I have taught for years to an online format to best provide our students the technical education they need,” said Regina Wrenn. "My efforts, and the efforts of teachers throughout the system — and state workers in every agency — make the governor’s recent comments about our negotiated raises so hurtful."
As a 35-year veteran state employee and current Kaynor Technical High School health technology department head, Wrenn stressed that her votes to approve concessions "have saved the state billions." 
Click here for a leaflet listing the key provisions in the current and two prior SEBAC agreements.
Wrenn, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated State Vocational Federation of Teachers, concluded by raising the question of fairness in asking state employees for more concessions. She asked, “have the people who live in the governor’s neighborhood sacrificed nearly that much, even though they can far better afford it?"
State employee union members additionally weighed in on politicians pushing for a return to the austerity measures adopted after the Great Recession of 2008 in response to the pandemic.
"We need to build a robust state workforce so we can survive the current crisis and be in a better position to face the next one," said Yvonne Kingwood. "The coronavirus has clearly shown us that when the state fails, it’s working class people — disproportionately black and brown — who are forced to suffer and even lose their lives." 
The supervising developmental services worker in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS)' Lower Fairfield Center added that the solution is not to "deepen the cuts we’ve seen over the last decade." Kingwood instead urged an alternative approach she and colleagues in the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199/SEIU are advocating in a new advertising campaign.
Click here for the SEBAC update announcing the ads.
"To address structural racism and prevent the next public health crisis, the way forward is to invest in state agencies and state services," added Kingwood, a 27-year state employee.
There are many ways for state employees to be engaged in protecting past gains and preserving the services they deliver going forward. Those living in legislative districts represented by Republican legislators can take action now by sending a letter urging better choices than breaking union contracts and disrespecting frontline workers.
Click here to send a response to House GOP state representatives today.