Many members of the General Assembly have promised to address the state’s declining population through public policies that both keep people here and attract newcomers, but we have yet to see much in the way of concrete solutions that aren’t going to cost the state money we don’t have. But one solution that has the potential to improve the state’s economy, draw in and keep talent, all at little to no cost to the state government, is paid family and medical leave.
Recently I wrote about the difficulty, even impossibility, of funding Connecticut’s ever-growing pension liability. The article elicited a number of comments, and all agreed that something must be done. Here are my own recommendations for reform. First, a relatively small but significant first step in reforming the system would be to freeze pension benefits for all existing state employees not covered by union contractual obligations. These employees would include non-union members and employees of the state’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It would also include all administrators in the University of Connecticut system.
The majority of workers in Hartford and other Connecticut cities are paid less than $15 per hour. That information is found in a 2016 report of the Boston Federal Reserve. An even larger percentage of women and persons of color in those cities earn less than $15. Surprisingly, more than 30 percent of all Connecticut workers earn less than $15. Who are low-wage workers? They are home health and nurse aides, substitute teachers and classroom assistants, fast food and other food service workers, ticket takers, ushers, dishwashers, janitors, cleaners and housekeepers, Bradley airport baggage handlers, cashiers, retail clerks, child-care workers, hotel desk clerks, and dozens more.
Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the 2018 legislative session in Connecticut, and a new opportunity to steer our state in the right direction. To that end, the Connecticut Working Families Organization released its 2018 legislative agenda, a series of concrete and common sense policy recommendations designed to spur economic growth by empowering workers, reducing inequality, and increasing regional competitiveness. For Connecticut’s economy to grow, we need to create the conditions that make success possible for the vast majority of working class families in our state, just as many of our neighboring states have already done.
The CT Working Families Party fully supports the Gov. Dannel Malloy’s call for a fairer Connecticut. We’re very encouraged by his commitment to put the needs of Connecticut’s workers, who have made so many sacrifices over the years, first. His plan to ensure fairness in the workplace is a welcomed return to the policies he campaigned on and made Connecticut a national leader for other states to follow.
Amazon’s recent decision to drop Connecticut from its list of potential second headquarters locations was disappointing, but not completely unexpected. As companies expand, they look for business-friendly climates to be sure, but their primary focus is the availability of talent at every level. Amazon saw reason to invest in Connecticut for three distribution centers —which will eventually employ 4,000— but not its headquarters. The reason? Simply put, talent at every level is not what Connecticut has to offer.
Across the country anti-worker politicians and corporations are stacking the cards against the 40 percent of Americans making less than $15 an hour and Connecticut is no different. Connecticut has one of the nation’s highest costs of living and the current minimum wage at $10.10 cannot sustain working families.
Our Connecticut State Legislature was faced with a truly historic choice; either dig our state out of a $5 billion biennial fiscal abyss responsibly or, once again, allow the state unions to reap asymmetrical benefits that significantly exceed both the private sector workforce and state employees from any other state in the country. The legislature chose the latter, and one of the most critical opportunities to change our state’s fiscal trajectory was squandered with the renegotiation of our state union workers contract.
Democrats in the State Senate voted last week to approve significant concessions and structural changes — the types of structural changes many of us have long sought — to Connecticut’ state employee labor agreements (SEBAC). This vote is just the latest step Democrats in Connecticut have taken to make government more affordable and more efficient for our taxpayers, and the labor concessions in this agreement represent the most critical piece crafting our next biennial state budget — eliminating about a third of the projected state budget deficit.
Connecticut families and businesses need to understand the state union agreement the legislature has just approved and what it means for them. While one union leader called it “the best and longest public-sector pension and healthcare contract in the country,” its far-reaching budgetary consequences will likely not draw such enthusiasm from Connecticut taxpayers.
I am disappointed that the General Assembly passed the state employee concession contracts. I believe that may have broken the back of Connecticut. I will state the obvious. The Democrats who voted to pass the contracts have also voted for tax increases to pay for those contracts and for the seemingly unending flow of taxpayer dollars into cities.
As Connecticut senators vote on a labor “concessions” deal, the irony is that even greater savings can be achieved without any deal at all. Gov. Dannel Malloy claims to have extracted $715 million in wage savings over two years through a “wage freeze.” Yet, without any deal, he could achieve $770 million in wage savings. The simple truth is that wages can only be raised by contract. No contract, no raises.