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Lamont watching from the sidelines

After three years in office, Governor Lamont's profile has become clear. He does not make things happen; he lets things happen on their own.

He has a growing scandal in his administration involving a now-former deputy commissioner of Office of Policy and Management. He has called it a new development. We just learned that he was alerted to the problem in 2020.

He let the situation fester until an FBI investigation became public and forced his hand.

Also in 2020, yet in very public fashion, Lamont commissioned Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study of state government staffing and to recommend how to deal with a long-expected retirement wave that is now upon us.

BCG submitted its very worrisome findings almost a year ago. Since then, there is no evidence that Lamont has done much to deal with what is now a crisis.

Lamont's procrastination and inaction will be costly to the state and to Lamont politically.

BCG alerted the governor that about one quarter of the executive branch workforce was eligible to retire before June 30, 2022, now only about four months away. BCG surveyed these employees and found that three-quarters planned to retire.

Naturally, this called for a plan of action, combining efforts both to retain some workers and to replace others. Obviously, no organization can lose — neither retain nor replace — such a large cadre of employees and function properly.

The BCG study sounded the alarm about a major obstacle. It alerted Lamont that the state hiring process was inordinately convoluted and slow, taking an average of 33 weeks, or almost 8 months, to bring on a new employee. Thus, the replacement side of any plan would have to start no later than last October.

Yet, there have been no news reports of any special hiring effort. Even over the last four months, when panic might have been expected, still there have been no reports of action.

Meanwhile, the wage side of the state employee contract expired June 30, compounding the retirement challenge with the challenge of labor negotiations.

At this point, there is simply no time left for any meaningful hiring push, which means that the only possible strategy is retention.

In the context of collective bargaining, retention plays right into labor's negotiating position. Obviously, if labor knows it can't be replaced, it can demand anything.

Accordingly, Lamont is likely to announce a costly wage increase for state employees soon. Things can't wait much longer. Presumably, union leaders need to brief the rank and file on a tentative deal, and union members need to vote on the deal, and the General Assembly needs to go through its Kabuki dance, aka contract approval process. Then, individual employees will need time to decide if the deal is good for them personally or that retirement is a better option.

Connecticut wage contracts with the State Employees Bargaining Alliance Coalition (SEBAC) are conventionally four-year deals, beginning with the year following the expiration of the last contract. So, we are already 8 months into the new four-year term, and 20 months out from the last wage hike for employees.

It is fair to expect the new deal to include three consecutive annual wage increases. It is also fair to expect hefty raises, especially because the negotiations are taking place within the context of the highest inflation in 40 years.

Will the announcement of such a deal be unpopular for Lamont? You bet!

Connecticut state employees lead a charmed existence, of which Connecticut citizens have become painfully aware in recent years. When the public learns about the new impending contract, there will be outrage.

Large wage hikes for state workers won't look good with the state suffering from the fifth highest unemployment rate among the 50 states, and a worse contraction of its labor force than 46 other states. Those lucky enough to have jobs are seeing their wages consumed by inflation.

A new study of state employee compensation in the 50 states confirms once again that Connecticut employees are among the highest compensated relative to comparable in-state private sector workers. No state worker lost a job during the pandemic due to a decade-long contractual no-layoff guarantee, which is likely to be extended once again. State workers received a wage hike during the pandemic that even Lamont called unfair.

Now, the governor is using the entirety of the $2.9 billion of federal aid received under the American Rescue Plan, to make special — and, arguably, illegal — deposits of $2.9 billion into the state employee and teacher pension funds, not to assist struggling businesses and workers.

Against this backdrop, outrage at a cushy new contract is almost certain.

Red Jahncke is the President of the The Townsend Group Intl, LLC and a regular contributor.

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