HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A multi-year labor agreement recently ratified by 43,000 unionized Connecticut state employees cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, with Democrats and Republicans at odds over whether the deal is too expensive for taxpayers or ultimately saves the state money and stabilizes a predicted tsunami of retirements.
The four-year deal, which is retroactive to July 1, 2021, builds upon an agreement the state had reached in 2017 with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. It comes as the rate of inflation has soared to a 40-year high and wages in the U.S. have risen over the past year, giving workers the upper hand in the job market.
“We're hemorrhaging workers right now. We're losing them en masse to the private sector: nursing, IT, finance, engineering. We've also got a number who are retiring,” said Rep. Mike D'Agostino, D-Hamden. “That's the context we find ourselves in now and we have to recognize why this deal is appropriate for the time we're in.”
The bill passed on a vote of 96 to 52. Democrats were united Thursday in approving the agreement while all but one Republican, Rep. Tom Delnicki of South Windsor, opposed the legislation. The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.
The 35 labor contracts, which were ratified by the various unions last month, include 2.5% general wage increases and step increases retroactive to July 1, 2021. The workers will also receive additional 2.5% general wage increases and step increases beginning July 1 and July 1, 2023. State and union officials are expected to meet again in the fourth year to negotiate wages.
“My concern is the sustainability of this in the long-term,” said Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, noting how there are “some unknowns” with the labor agreement, including how much it could increase the state's pension costs and how much wages might cost in the fourth year.
The agreement also includes special lump sum payments of $2,500 for active employees who’ve been on the job since March 31 and $1,000 for those employed as of July 15, 2022. There’s a pro-rated bonus for part-time employees. Some Republicans in the House raised concerns about the bonuses, noting how state workers could still retire even after receiving the bonuses.
D'Agostino, who noted how state employees did not receive wage increases in six out of the last 11 years, said the bonuses will likely save the state more money in wages considering an arbitrator would probably award them 3% raises, which would be imbedded in their salaries.