Throughout the next few weeks, legislators and Connecticut’s residents will hear from opponents of the working class who claim that the SEBAC contracts are unfair, too costly and state workers are undeserving. This is untrue.
It’s important to know that these opponents want nothing more than to drive a wedge between workers and prevent us from moving up and supporting our families. They don’t care that we have Connecticut residents working their entire career and then retiring into poverty. They don’t care that state workers have had six years of wage freezes in the last twelve. They don’t care that state workers have made significant pension and healthcare sacrifices to save the state over $1.6 billion in the biennium.
These sacrifices came at a time when the state was facing financially difficult times following the Great Recession. When Connecticut needed state workers to step up, time and time again they delivered. Making sacrifices while continuing to do more with less and less staff, resources, wages and benefits.
But now, the state is flush with cash, and it’s time to acknowledge the critical work state employees do each and every day, for every one of the 3.5 million residents in Connecticut, with a fair and honorable contract.
State workers provide critical public services to Connecticut families – whether you drive over one of our 4,000+ bridges, utilize services at the Department of Motor Vehicles, enjoy a public beach or State park, attend a state university or Community College or receive care from UConn Health. Our state is struggling to recruit and retain the dedicated and knowledgeable workers we need to ensure that Connecticut’s families have access to the quality public services that they rely on everyday.
There is a reason this retirement cliff has been referred to as a “silver tsunami” and “brain drain” – what we are experiencing has devastating consequences to each and every person that calls Connecticut home. That means unsafe drinking water, unmaintained roads and bridges, unstaffed correctional facilities, schools and hospitals, and much more.
Across state agencies we are facing a crisis of unmet need, compounded by this upcoming retirement wave. We already have over 600 vacancies in the Department of Corrections, over 800 vacancies in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, over 300 vacancies in the Department of Developmental Services, and the list goes on and on.
We are losing mid-level career workers every year to the private and municipal sector who are paying higher wages for similar work. Speaking for myself, I could make 50% higher wages if I moved into the private sector as a professional engineer.
These fair and honorable contracts were hard-fought and recognize the need to recruit and retain a talented and diverse workforce while we are facing an unprecedented retirement cliff. In the past 15 years we have lost over 20% of our workforce, meaning services are not being provided and residents are losing out.
Woodward is president of CSEA SEIU Local 2001