GOP Lawmakers Look to Scale Back Remote Work at State Agencies

State Capitol, Hartford, CT (CT Examiner)


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HARTFORD — Republican lawmakers are questioning whether a policy allowing state workers to spend the majority of their time working remotely is preventing them from helping Connecticut residents, sometimes with deadly consequences.

A bill proposed by Republican House members would allow commissioners of any human services agency to require that workers be on-site for up to 60 percent of their working hours beginning July 1. 

But members of the state bargaining unions and state Department of Social Services workers are strongly opposed to the measure, saying the decision should be made through collective bargaining and not by legislators. 

State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-Branford, the state House minority leader, said the proposal stemmed from reports by the Office of the Child Advocate concerning the deaths of three children in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families.

Candelora referenced a report from child advocate Sarah Egan, who investigated the death of Liam Rivera, a 2-year-old killed by blunt force to the head in October. Among the recommendations in the report summary was a request that the department review its telework policy, which currently allows up to four days of remote work.

“The fact that three children have died this year under state care — to me, if that doesn’t motivate us to take a look at telework, I don’t know what will,” Candelora said. “But I think we have to assess it because it’s gone on unilaterally from the state perspective without any evaluation of whether or not critical jobs are being performed.”

Under the current bargaining agreements, requirements for in-person work vary by agency. 

Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne said work-from-home policies should be determined through bargaining between the labor unions and the managing agencies.

“I’m a big proponent of a happy workforce is a productive workforce, and if they’re happy at home, they should be able to stay at home,” he said. 

Human services agencies aren’t the only groups experiencing backlogs, according to Candelora. He said constituents have expressed concerns about delays in renewing pistol permits and difficulties securing appointments at the Department of Motor Vehicles as well.

“An online platform might be OK, but are we as productive as we were four years ago? We just don’t know. There are no assessments in place whatsoever. And I think at the very least, we should be in a position to start assessing where it’s working and where it’s not, just like in the private sector,” Candelora said. 

Ideally, he said, a task force would be formed to identify metrics to measure workers’ productivity.  

However, over 100 Department of Social Services workers testified in opposition to the proposal, arguing that remote work increased their productivity by eliminating lengthy commutes and that eliminating the work-from-home requirement would negatively impact morale. DSS workers testified that they currently had to work in person up to two days per week.

“Since the start of telework, I have seen an increase in my focus, with less distractions than I would have in an office environment. I have little to no distractions at home, and can focus 100 percent of my work day on my cases and clients,” Carah Barrieau, a long-term care worker, wrote in her testimony. 

Sheryl Feducia, who has worked for the Department of Social Services for over 35 years, said remote work is not the reason for the agency’s backlogs.

“[When in person], our offices were bombarded with lengthy lines, clients that could not get in the door because the lines were so long, and the wait time was hours in the waiting room if they decide to wait,” Feducia told the committee. 

Feducia, who works two days in the office and three days remote, said there isn’t enough space for all the workers to be in the service center, so some are forced to work from home anyway. She also noted that clients can submit forms online while they are on the phone with DSS workers. 

DCF Commissioner Jodi Hill-Lilly denied that remote work was negatively affecting the department’s work doing home visits.

“The telework arbitration being referenced in no way impacts how often our frontline employees conduct home visitations,” she said. “We will continue to support and empower DCF’s workforce so they in turn are able to support and empower the children and families we serve.”

Representatives from the two agencies did not respond to requests for comment. 

State Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, said he was reluctant to insert himself between labor and management, but that he was concerned about the services being provided to Connecticut residents. 

“I hesitate to get involved here, but what I can tell you is that I hear a lot from constituents who say this isn’t working,” Weir said. “We need to get to the bottom of what is the need? What is the real need?”

Candelora also suggested that bringing employees back into the office would have a positive effect on the city of Hartford.

“People aren’t going out to lunch. We all frequent restaurants in this area when we’re up in Hartford, and it’s a ghost town. The food trucks are gone. They never came back,” he said. “So this certainly has had an impact on the city of Hartford. And I think collectively, it is our capital city and we should be supporting it.”

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.