Through SEBAC, state government unions have reached a tentative agreement with the Lamont administration that will cost taxpayers millions. Guaranteed raises — along with a $3,500 bonus — will go out to over 40,000 state employees, regardless of performance. These are likely to be the same state workers who will be working hard for their favored candidate — calling your home, knocking on your door, or working the polls in the upcoming election.
By law, negotiations between government unions and state management are supposed to be an adversarial process, with both sides advocating for their best position in order to strike an equitable balance of interests. Unfortunately, politicians have too often put their personal political objectives before taxpayers’ best interests in what amounts a betrayal of the public trust.
The union’s goal is to increase its power and achieve the most remunerative agreement possible for their members. In turn, the governor’s office and the State Board of Labor Relations is supposed to ensure they can manage the work force properly and achieve a fair agreement on the taxpayers’ behalf — a goal they most frequently fail to achieve, even as they evade accountability by blaming the union.
Under our state Freedom of Information Act, as soon as a document is executed by both the union and the State Board of Labor Relations, that document is officially a public record. Strangely, the governor’s office chose to keep the deal he negotiated behind closed doors — in our names – a secret for more than three weeks. We were prevented from seeing the deal that our taxes will support far longer than necessary.
Here’s what’s important to understand: Unions will utilize any lawful means to increase their power and influence. It’s not their job to be concerned by the appearance of impartiality, or even by a clear quid pro quo. Nor are they concerned by the high taxes we pay in Connecticut, or the education of our children. They do not worry that it is difficult for business to thrive or that your disposable income is consumed by the high cost of fuel and food. From their perspective, this is simply not their problem. Their job is to extract a better contract from the politicians who are supposed to be “negotiating” with them on behalf of the taxpayers.
Too often, the politicians who are supposed to “have our back” just don’t. Many in the political class simply lack the will to place reasonable controls on a process that guarantees them the support of a powerful and motivated electoral bloc.
This dynamic explains how Connecticut entered the throes of a self-inflicted pension crisis. This crisis means that over time, everything from education spending to meaningful tax relief for businesses and help for our seniors is being squeezed out by the weight of billions in unfunded pension liability. These are obligations that state unions and politicians alike signed off on.
By law, Connecticut must pay the full annual contribution toward its pensions and the unfunded liabilities at the state level. But the General Assembly has allowed union contracts to supersede state law. In a handy mutual aid society, state unions and agreed to defer required pension payments in exchange for offering state workers pay increases and other sweet deals up front (which surely had nothing to do with politicians’ desire to attract volunteer campaign workers, donations, and endorsements!).
By underfunding state pensions over the years and thereby increasing state costs, SEBAC betrayed its members and municipal union members alike, risking future state funding for municipal aid. This is a dirty secret unknown to most union members – who are likewise unaware that state workers pay significantly less into their pensions than their municipal counterparts.
Now the bill has come due for years of failed public policy. Although SEBAC is culpable (along with past governors and legislatures) for approving these agreements, they are still demanding more.
And rather than charting a better course, Governor Lamont seems to be doubling down on the failed approach of the past. He has just signed off on $3,500 bonuses in addition to raises. His justification is that the bonuses will prevent further retirements, yet $2,500 of the bonuses are not even contingent on recipients remaining in government employment past July! As the governor solicits union support for his upcoming re-election, his lack of transparency and freedom with the public purse are troubling.
But perhaps the very generous tentative union agreement the governor has negotiated isn’t about securing union support in the upcoming election. If not, as a show of good faith, will the governor agree to bar union funds, political endorsements, and free campaign workers?
Ricci is a Yankee Institute Fellow for Labor and Special Initiatives