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News

State unions ratify contracts granting raises and $3,500 bonuses

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KEITH M. PHANEUF / CTMIRROR.ORG
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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont stands behind Lori J. Pelletier at a union rally in 2018.

More than 30 state employee bargaining units have ratified contracts that would provide more than 40,000 workers with $3,500 in bonuses by July, along with three years of raises, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition announced Friday.

The agreement negotiated by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and SEBAC — which includes three years of step increases and 2.5% general wage hikes annually — now heads to the General Assembly for consideration.

Also Friday, an impending surge in state employee retirements continued to intensify, according to new data from Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office.

“This historic agreement will help ensure all residents and businesses in Connecticut can rely on the vital public services provided by the state’s workforce,” the coalition wrote in a statement. “It is a vital step in resolving the current staffing crisis that is the consequence of decades of disinvestment and austerity.”

“This agreement provides a clear message to our state employees that we value their contributions to our residents while also providing a solid platform from which to recruit the next generation of public servants to our ranks,” Lamont wrote in his statement.

The tentative deals call for 2.5% general wage hikes this fiscal year and in each of the next two. There also would be step increases in each of the three years for all workers not currently at the senior-most level.

Full-time workers would receive a $2,500 special payment immediately after legislative ratification of the deal, to cover the current fiscal year, which began last July 1. They also would receive an additional $1,000 payment on July 14. Part-time workers would be eligible for pro-rated special payments.

Now that unions have ratified their contracts, details will be provided to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, which will assess the short- and long-term implications of the agreement.

But while total costs of the deal aren’t known yet, the package already has polarized Democrats and Republicans.

Providing $3,500 in bonuses for about 43,000 workers is roughly $150 million, and Republicans say this is little more than the Democratic governor buying labor support as he campaigns this year for reelection.

“It’s politics, pure and simple,” Madison Republican Bob Stefanowski, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Lamont and is seeking a rematch this year, said in early March when the CT Mirror first disclosed the tentative wage agreements. “Governor Lamont wants the union vote next November, and he will do everything in his power to get it — at the expense of everyone else in Connecticut.”

Lamont and many of his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority say the package is essential to ensure an ongoing surge in senior state employee retirements doesn’t get out of hand.

Officials have been warning of a surge in retirements since 2017 when a concession deal with unions tightened benefits for those who retire after June 30, 2022.

The state had 2,056 workers retire two years ago and 2,656 in 2021.

According to data released Friday from the comptroller’s office, 2,086 workers have retired so far this calendar year, and 1,330 more have filed written notices of their intentions to retire before July 1.

The 3,416 retirements and planned retirements combined is up 10% from just one month ago.

And the number of full-time positions authorized in the state budget for the Executive Branch, which includes most state agencies, already is down 10.6% from one decade ago.

“The state has to live within its means just like the families and businesses we serve and represent,” Lamont added. “But this is also a unique situation where state employees did extraordinary work during a paradigm-altering pandemic, inflation has concurrently increased, and the state workforce could potentially undergo significant changes due to retirements and uncompetitive wages.”

Union leaders also note their members granted concessions to help close major state budget deficits in 2009, 2011 and 2017.

Those packages, collectively, included six fiscal years in which workers forfeited general wage and step increases, though they did receive lump sum payments in two of those six years.

All three concession packages also increase health care costs for workers, while two of the three tightened pension and retirement health care benefits.

The last two deals also provided most workers with multiyear protection from layoffs.