(Updated 4:21 p.m.) With the jobs of 56 state troopers on the line, hundreds of troopers and their families rallied at the state Capitol Monday with a message for the governor and legislature: We are unique.
“The layoff of 56 troopers is an unjustifiable risk to public safety,” said Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union. “They should understand that troopers face greater risk of injury or death on a daily basis and are distinct within state government.”
They are also unique in that they were just one of the two bargaining units within the 15 member State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to vote down the two-year wage freeze and four years of job security. They did vote in favor of the health and pension package negotiated by SEBAC.
Matthews argued there should be no layoff of the 56 troopers because the department is already operating below the statutorily mandated number of 1,248 troopers. There are currently 1,127 troopers in the department with hundreds eligible for retirement. If the 56 troopers are laid off the department will be down to 1,071 troopers.
He said lowering the number even further will drive up the cost of overtime to the state and put public safety at risk.
He said they voted 657 to 123 against giving up their 2.5 percent wage increase because they feel they already gave back in 2009 by agreeing to the wage freeze implemented under then Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
“Let me ask again: Are troopers unique within state government?” Matthews asked the crowd which responded affirmatively.
He said troopers are unique because they’re chosen from tens of thousands of applicants and held to a higher standard both on and off duty.
“We have fewer constitutional rights than others. We make a life or death decisions in seconds that are later scrutinized for months and years. We work alone and often wait long periods of time for our backup. We wear vests and guns to work, our lives are shortened by the stress and experiences of our profession,” said Matthews.
It’s unclear if any of the layoff notices, which are due to go into effect Wednesday will be rescinded. That will be a decision left to Public Safety Commissioner Reuben Bradford and Col. Danny Stebbins, in consultation with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office. Malloy said at a Monday afternoon press conference that he will make a decision on the layoffs within the next 48 hours.
“To be clear, I deeply appreciate the troopers’ service, as I do the service of all state employees,“ Malloy said in a statement. The troopers put their lives on the line every day, and we are a safer state thanks to their service. Also to be clear: I’m sensitive to the troopers’ concerns. But I have to manage the entire workforce, and given the massive budget problems I inherited, I believe asking all state employees to take a two-year wage freeze – in return for job security – is fair.”
“By rejecting that two-year wage freeze the state police have rejected the job security; therefore, they’re subject to layoffs,“ Malloy said. “I have total confidence in the leadership demonstrated by Commissioner Bradford and Col. Stebbins, and I’m completely confident they will manage the State Police with the resources they have without jeopardizing public safety.”
Dennis Hallion, executive director of the National Troopers Coalition, said law enforcement isn’t a state agency where you can ask individuals to do more with less.
“Any attempt to gut staffing levels is a failed experiment,” Hallion said.
He said troopers are different from other state labor groups because “our promotions are based on how many pushups we can do.” He said the troopers should be in a vacuum when negotiating benefits.
But since the legislature was the one that created SEBAC to bargain for health and pension benefits for all employees, it’s also the only body that can change how SEBAC is configured.
Lawmakers, like Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he hasn’t heard of any support from his fellow lawmakers for leaving SEBAC.
However, Looney said he thinks state law already takes into consideration their very different job description and work requirements. He cited the 20 years they have to work to collect their full retirement and clauses regarding hypertension and work conditions in their contracts.
Matthews said they will “respectfully” make their case to lawmakers.
And he said SEBAC leadership is made up of “reasonable people.” The move to separate from the coalition should not be viewed as “disrespect for other hazardous duty units,” he added.
“We have the greatest respect for the members and leaders of the Connecticut State Police Union and will leave any further comment on this matter to them,” Matt O’Connor, SEBAC spokesman, said in a brief one sentence statement on the issue.
Michael Buck of Glastonbury, who received one of the 56 layoff notices, said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen on Wednesday, but he doesn’t see how they can cut troopers when the department is already understaffed. He said his father who has been a state trooper for 15 years already makes more money in overtime than he does in pay as a member of the newest class.
A former Wallingford police officer, Buck said the state could lose the money it spent to train the latest trooper class if they go off looking for jobs in municipal departments.
Buck, 26, said he voted in favor of both the wage freeze and the pension and health care benefits both times, but he doesn’t begrudge the older troopers for voting against the wage freeze.
“I wasn’t in the department in 2009 so I didn’t lose anything,” Buck said.