The recent agreement between the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) and the Lamont administration is a fair and honorable one that makes sense for everyone.
As Vice President of AFSCME Local 1588, I represent employees in the Office of Higher Education. Our members do the work that ensures colleges and universities in Connecticut are licensed and accredited. Administrators and clerical workers, faculty, and other support staff are all working together to make higher education institutions strong for students.
Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. That’s where the SEBAC agreement comes into play.
Since the Great Recession, Connecticut has continued to reduce its public investment in services our communities depend on. Since 2008, the state workforce has dropped by 20%. Currently, thousands of vacancies exist across state agencies and an additional wave of retirements are expected this summer.
Taking care of the workforce we have got left is a good idea. Morale and retention are of rapidly increasing import to the quality of state services. The SEBAC agreement is an investment in the state workforce that will benefit critical services that residents need now and in the long-term future.
Those opposed to the SEBAC agreement will argue that these contracts are too costly for taxpayers. They will say state employees are undeserving of fair pay. These statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
What would the cost be to Connecticut residents if our critical public services continue to be slashed? If we are unable to recruit and retain high-quality staff, how can we expect to serve the jobless in need of unemployment benefits, provide healthcare to society’s most vulnerable, and educate the next generation of Connecticut leaders, innovators, and businesspeople?
Private sector wages went up an average of 6% in the state of Connecticut last year. There is a cost associated with the state not keeping pace. There are several people in my office right now who have job offers from the private sector that entail both more money and less responsibility than their current state positions. They tell me they stay because they love public service.
SEBAC unions including mine have given back billions of dollars in economic concessions over the last twelve years, including six wage freezes, increased contributions to our health and retirement plans, and the creation of lower-benefit pension tiers. All told, those concessions will result in $24 billion in ongoing savings for the state.
The bottom line is that when sacrifice and hardship came knocking, we answered the call. Also forgotten in this year’s agreement is the fact that our one-time lump sum payments were a compromise that saved the state money.
Now is the time for legislators to honor state employee sacrifices to the state over the years and throughout the pandemic by voting in favor of the agreement. Our economy is not just doing well, it’s overflowing with the funds to recognize state employees for their dedication and commitment to the people of Connecticut.
State workers are not some nameless, faceless entity. They are our friends and neighbors. They have children and mortgage payments. They are taxpayers, too. They are real people.
The SEBAC agreement reinforces the importance of recognizing front-line workers who are driven not by profit margins and shareholder dividends but by a commitment to public service.
Bjornberg is vice president of AFSCME Local 1588 representing employees
at the Office of Higher Education