Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is right to focus on reinventing Connecticut to grow jobs here for the first time in 20 years. However, before anyone can figure out policies to rebuild the middle class, we need to know what is destroying it.
According to the latest statistics from the Connecticut Department of Labor, decline in local government jobs is aggravating our current recession. Connecticut’s numbers are shocking. While we gained 4,000 jobs this year, we lost more than 6,000 government jobs. In August alone, over 85 percent of the jobs lost were public employees. The number of teachers, 911 dispatchers, firefighters that we have on the job is at its lowest level in over a decade.
Connecticut’s middle class has been getting a raw deal for far too long. About 30 years ago, our fixed costs started rising: child care, health care, mortgages, transportation. At the same time, our wages began flat-lining. And then the attack started on what we thought were sacred parts of the fabric of America’s working class: collective bargaining rights, pensions, Social Security, employer-provided medical care.
Now, the middle-class is turning on itself, fighting over the last few slices of the cake that the super-rich haven’t devoured – yet.
It’s time we had a new deal for Connecticut.
Our union, Council 4, launched our Campaign for the Middle Class to restore our fundamental values about an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, to return the focus to investing in people – not just in corporations – and to make economic security possible once again.
As the Governor and policy makers begin to debate how we reinvent Connecticut, here are a few simple ideas:
· Stop slashing vital public structures. The first task of any job creation strategy must be to stop cutting jobs. That means making sure our cities and towns have the resources to fund the important services they provide. New Britain, for example, is set to lose $250 million in federal aid that supported special education programs. Without additional resources from the state legislature its likely these programs will collapse.
· Better subsidized workforce training. A recent report showed that despite well-designed continuing education courses at community colleges – courses that are supposed to prepare workers for the green jobs of the future – students are not signing up. Why? Because they can’t afford it. People no longer have the discretionary income to take courses that will prepare them for the jobs of the future.
· Raise labor standards and improve enforcement. Connecticut’s consumers need more money in their pockets to spend on products and services in their local communities. One problem: Connecticut’s workers are not sharing in the wealth that is being created. We need legislation that will ensure the creation of good-paying, family-supporting jobs.
· Fix Connecticut’s aging infrastructure. We are not suffering from a lack of work or an inadequate supply of workers. We need to put our carpenters, laborers, and other tradesman to work repairing our roads, bridges and rebuilding schools. Cutting corporate taxes or doling out taxpayer subsidies to corporation is not a jobs plan. Putting people to work upgrading our infrastructure is a jobs plan.
This is a critical moment for the governor and the legislature. We believe they truly care about rebuilding the shattered middle class. But to succeed, they must abandon the foolish budget slashing that never worked in favor of smart spending to jump start the economy. That’s what got us out of the Great Depression and every single slowdown since then.
We can restore the American Dream, but only if we begin investing in and focusing on the worker, not just the corporation.
Sal Luciano is Executive Director of Council 4, a union representing 35,000 workers.