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State employee raises out of sync with times

Last Sunday’s editorial in The Day about the state employee pay raises that went into effect July 1 was entitled “To be fair, consider history behind state pay raise." I agree wholeheartedly; let’s indeed look at the history behind these pay raises. I suspect most people, however, would reach a different conclusion than this paper with regard to the benefits to the state and the “sacrifices” made by the state work force. We have to go back to the Rowland administration for the first of these deals, which locked in health and pension benefits for 20 years in return for labor concessions. Politicians of both parties later castigated Rowland for this deal. Yet in 2011, then-Governor Malloy extended this no-change provision through 2022. While everyone in the private sector would see drastic changes in the amount they would have to pay for health care, and changes to pensions if they were fortunate enough to have one, state employees received a great deal. 

If you doubt that, listen to the words of Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition. Livingston said, “…You all, if you ratify this, have security that no other state worker in the country has, and I’d venture to say no other private sector workers….”. “Nowhere else in the country will you find workers who know they won’t be laid off for four years no matter what happens. You don’t pick up the paper like we all did yesterday morning and say, ‘Oh my God, job growth is down to 54,000 for the entire country. They’re talking about a double dip recession. I wonder if I’m going to lose my job next month or next year.’ You guys don’t have to say that.”

What private sector worker would not agree to wage freezes for two years, followed by three years of 3 percent wage increases, guaranteed job security and no changes to health insurance and pensions? Even the savings that were touted as a result of that deal never materialized. Remember the employee suggestion box that was supposed to create savings of $100 million? 

Let’s look at the next deal Malloy reached with the state unions in 2017. That deal had two years of wage freezes, followed by awards of up to $2,000 or $1,000 and step increase plus $1,000, whichever amount was greater, followed by two years of 3.5 percent wage increases and no layoffs for four years. The agreement to make no changes to health and pension benefits was extended another five years, so the terms of the original Rowland deal, which would have expired in 2017, now ran until 2027! There were also 30 individual union contracts, each of which contained special concessions, ranging from increases in longevity pay to the ability of union stewards to work more hours on union business paid for by taxpayers. 

The Day maintains that passing the 2017 agreement cleared the path for the historic bipartisan budget. Actually, what cleared the way for the bipartisan budget was the tie in the state Senate and the very close numbers in the House, which made true bipartisan negotiation mandatory. As a result, there was for the first time a true spending cap, bonding cap and volatility cap, in addition to the requirement that all union contracts receive an up or down vote by the legislature, instead of being allowed to be enacted by 30 days of legislative inaction. 

Which takes us back to the point of The Day’s editorial, that Governor Lamont was right in refusing to postpone these raises. At a time when there are over 660,000 unemployment claims, when businesses are shutting their doors right and left, when fellow Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California are postponing raises and in the case of Newsom, demanding wage cuts layoffs and furloughs, there is no possible justification for the raises.

Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, represents the 37th House District.


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