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Union objections should not stop state labor-force study

Gov. Ned Lamont is working to carry out a legislative mandate aimed at seeing if an expected spike in state worker retirements can become an opportunity to reorganize, make government more efficient, and save taxpayers money.

Union leaders representing those workers are pushing back. They don’t want the state labor force cooperating with an effort that could thin their own ranks and reduce the number of job opportunities in the state workforce.

In other words, everyone is doing their jobs.

Lamont should not expect the unions to happily play along with him, or the consultants he hired. But his administration should pursue its goal, nonetheless.

That worthy goal was well summarized by the governor’s communication’s director, Max Reiss: "Governor Lamont is committed to modernizing and streamlining how we operate, taking advantage of advances in technology and planning ahead for the retirement wave to ensure we are (providing) the highest quality services to the people of Connecticut at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.”

A union concession deal signed in 2017, which preserved jobs and helped balance the state budget, reduced benefits for those who retire after June 30, 2022. A large number of retirements — getting out while the getting is good — are anticipated, as many as 12,500 among a workforce of 44,000 full-time positions, Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo has projected.

In 2017, the General Assembly directed the governor to study both the impact and the opportunity it would provide to improve government services and save money. Lawmakers somewhat arbitrarily set a saving’s target of $500 million. The administration hired the Boston Consulting Group to carry out the study.

But the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition has urged its union members not to cooperate with a survey that workers are receiving asking about their retirement plans. The survey is intended to get a better handle on the number of possible retirements and in which departments.

Union leaders note that the labor force has shrunk significantly through attrition, 15% down from 2010. True, but technology is allowing many industries to do more with fewer people. Government should not be exempt. Secondly, the attrition process is inefficient, leaving some critical agencies shorthanded and others arguably overstaffed.

Labor opposition will make the study more difficult, but not impossible. It would be malfeasance for the state not to prepare for the expected retirements and seize them as an opportunity for a fresh look.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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