Juan Valenzuela is just one of the roughly 600 state janitors that may lose their benefits, including their medical insurance, next year.
Valenzuela, a janitor at the state Capitol, said last week that he is very disappointed in state lawmakers for not keeping their promise and amending the Standard Wage Law.
“They played games with us,” Valenzuela said. “We’re not looking for more benefits, we’re losing the benefits we have.”
The Standard Wage Law mandates that workers like Valenzuela, who are employed through contractors and not directly by the state, get at least 30 percent above the prevailing wage in benefits. The 30 percent is meant to include health care, pension, sick and vacation days and other forms of insurance, but union officials say the law is often interpreted as a ceiling on benefits instead of a minimum requirement.
“The legislature chose not to address this issue,” Kurt Westby, director of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, said in a phone interview. He said lawmakers seemed sympathetic, but when it came time to deal with the issue they weren’t able to do it.
Raising the benefit pay to help these workers maintain the benefits they have would cost the state between $750,000 to $1 million, Westby said. He said it’s kind of ironic that if the state chooses not to address this during the June 11 special session, it may end up paying out more money because many of the 600 workers who may lose their medical insurance would qualify for the state’s Medicaid program that subsidizes health insurance for low-income families.
Westby estimated that the state would end up paying almost $2 million to subsidize health insurance benefits for workers like Valenzuela.
Valenzuela said both his wife and his 3-year-old daughter are on his health insurance plan. He said if he lost his insurance through his employer he would qualify for the state’s Medicaid program known as the HUSKY program.
Valenzuela said he hopes he doesn’t have to lose his medical benefits, but if he does he said it’s going to be hard to support these lawmakers in November.
Valenzuela, who works in the state Capitol side-by-side with lawmakers, said “they know how hard we work.” He said there’s an election coming and they’re starting to ask us for our support, “but how do you think we feel?”
Democratic leadership in both the Senate and the House said they would take up the issue next year, but next year may be too late for Valenzuela, who is looking hard at supporting challengers over incumbents in his voting district.
Larry Perosino, spokesman for Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said last week that there have been dozens of requests for things to be added to the call of special session. He said during special session the legislature will address the extension of the real estate conveyance tax and possibly ethics reform.