MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — While organized labor had high praise for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont at the opening day of the Connecticut AFL-CIO political convention on Thursday, workers urged him to do more to help fill numerous open positions in state government and across the state.
Members of unions representing a range of professions, including mental health staff and custodians at state-run facilities and nurses at private hospitals, warned about the consequences of staffing shortages.
“There are time limits for pilots, for truck drivers, etc. We are working our nurses to death. They are working 16 hours a day, five to six days a week. They can’t keep it up,” said Jean Morningstar, chief steward of University Health Professionals Local 3837 and former AFTCT vice president.
Morningstar called on Lamont to support a staffing bill similar to a California law that requires a specific number of patients in every hospital unit.
Tina Griffith, the lead custodian at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, UConn’s on-campus domed athletic facility, said she and her co-workers “cannot maintain our level of what we need to do to take care of our students that are coming from around the world, to keep them safe, to keep them healthy.”
She asked the governor: “What can we do to get some help?"
Lamont, who promised to use his “bully pulpit” to encourage UConn to address the staffing issues at Gampel, insisted that his administration is working hard to lure workers to join state government, ranging from financial incentives to loan forgiveness programs.
“We're trying our best to hire more nurses. I'm trying my best to hire more state police. I'm trying my best to hire more corrections (officers)," Lamont said. “We need more people to keep our government going.”
Lamont said the “good news” is the number of anticipated retirements from state government is not as large as first predicted and the state is on track to end the fiscal year with the same number of employees that it had a year ago. He said that could be due in part to a new multiyear labor agreement his administration reached with state employees, which includes pay raises and bonuses for tens of thousands of state employees.
While popular with many of the 257 delegates at Thursday's convention, the labor deal has been a point of contention in the 2022 governor's race. Lamont's Republican challenger, businessman Bob Stefanowski, recently said the 2.5% pay raises for workers were reasonable given the rate of inflation but accused Lamont of playing “Santa Claus” in an election year by giving out $3,500 in bonuses.
“You all know it — he’s buying 44,000 votes,” Stefanowski told reporters during a news conference last month.
Stefanowski did not appear Thursday at the AFL-CIO convention, held at Foxwoods Resort Casino. A spokesman for the labor federation said Stefanowski did not fill out a required questionnaire. Past Republican contenders for governor have appeared before the delegates to request their political backing, including businessman Tom Foley in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Lamont is expected to receive the group's endorsement on Friday.
The first-term Democrat received high praise on Thursday for the labor agreement as well as for signing long-sought legislation dubbed the “captive audience” bill into law. It generally prohibits employers from disciplining an employee or threatening to do so because the worker refused to attend certain employer-sponsored meetings.
Lamont was also credited Thursday with signing into law bills that created the state's paid family medical leave program; penalize employers who commit wage theft; and allow post-traumatic stress injuries for many first responders to be covered under the state's workers compensation benefits program. However, some union members questioned why the administration has not yet distributed COVID-19 pandemic pay to certain frontline state employees and why some workers aren't eligible for the extra money.
This story has been corrected to show that Jean Morningstar is chief steward of the University Health Professionals Local 3837 and former AFTCT vice president, not president of the union and current AFTCT vice president.