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Listening to the constant attacks and criticisms of Connecticut state employees compelled me to write on behalf of the brave and courageous men and women who work alongside me at the Connecticut Department of Correction.

I’ve walked this beat for more than 18 years. I serve with some of the finest individuals this state has to offer and it’s because of our dedication that Connecticut remains safe from those who have chosen crime and violence as a way of life. We raised our right hand and swore to defend Connecticut and its citizens and often times our service asks more of us than we get in return.

Please remember that when you are enjoying a holiday, we are on duty keeping you safe. When you are enjoying a weekend, we are on duty keeping you safe. Or when you are at home sleeping, we are awake and protecting you. I have literally seen my fellow officers shed blood in the line of duty; the scars we bare are both physical and mental — a sad reminder of the sacrifices we endure.

Too many correctional officers suffer from permanent disabilities and post-traumatic stress as a result of answering the state’s call to service. The physical and psychological stresses of our chosen occupation contribute to a higher rate of premature death than any other occupation I know of.

The inmate population is down. Staffing levels are down. Unfortunately, so is morale. The economic reality may have changed but the sacrifices and dangers we face have not. We have attempted in good faith (and as of yet to no avail) to negotiate a contract that is both fair and equitable to the state. With the legislative session in full swing, and difficult decisions that need to be made, I find it both interesting and quite frankly disheartening that monies are always found when political projects need to be funded.

It’s equally interesting but disheartening to hear legislators, editorial writers, and others with a public squawk box questioning things like overtime and our pensions. Connecticut’s unfunded liability has nothing to do with the decision the State and the DOC made to avoid hiring staff, thus forcing the use of overtime. (By the way: our collective bargaining agreements do not mandate staffing levels, contrary to what one legislator recently said as she argued that we were hoarding overtime.)

Finally, it is interesting and disheartening that the General Assembly bill list has hundreds of proposals to take money out of the pockets of working class people like correction officers, but practically no proposals to generate revenues that would protect the services we provide to keep Connecticut safe.

Correctional officers who put their lives on the line need support, not resistance. Too many times we are made out to be the problem. This may not fit the public narrative, but we are hardworking, tax paying citizens who risk our lives every day. We are helping to pull the cart, not sitting idly in it.

Rudy Demiraj is a State Correction Officer and President, AFSCME Local 387, representing Cheshire Correctional Complex Employees. Local 387 is an affiliated union of Council 4 AFSCME, which represents 35,000 hard-working employees across Connecticut. Council 4 can be reached on Facebook and through its Campaign4MiddleClass on Twitter @C4MC. Sign up for email updates from Council 4 here.

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