HARTFORD, CT (UPDATED 2:30 p.m.)— On their own time, Department of Labor employees delivered a petition to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office Monday asking him not to privatize any part of any Paid Family and Medical Leave program that’s approved by the General Assembly.
The petition was signed by about 300 of their colleagues.
“We as an agency believe we could do a better job administering the program,” AFSCME Local 269 President Xavier Gordon said.
He said privatization, one of the options being discussed in negotiations over three different versions of the legislation before the General Assembly, could also compromise the integrity of the program.
Democratic lawmakers are currently looking to negotiate exactly what Connecticut’s paid Family and Medical Leave Program will look like. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has said he expects the legislation to be passed in the next two weeks.
“Personally, I really don’t care who is administering it,” Aresimowicz said recently. “I don’t care. Public, private, let’s find out what works. Let’s get the product out to the people who need it.”
The two bills proposed by the legislature differ from the bill proposed by Lamont.
Under all three bills, all employees in Connecticut would contribute 0.5% of their weekly paycheck to a state-run trust fund, which would be used to pay workers during approved periods of leave.
How much employees would receive while they are out on leave differs depending upon which bill you consider.
The governor’s bill, SB 881, says an employee could earn 90% of their typical earnings up to $600 per week for anyone making around $15 an hour, and 67 percent up to $900 for workers earning more than that.
The other two bills offer a wage replacement level of 100 percent, up to a maximum of $1,000, which is much higher than programs in other states.
Asked about how firm he was last week on privatizing parts of the program, Lamont said the “hard line” for him is to “keep those options open so we can deliver service in the most efficient and effective way possible.”
Lamont said the Department of Labor would adjudicate any claims related to the program even if it’s overseen largely by a private insurance company.
Gordon said he doesn’t want to be sharing anyone’s “medical information” with a private company.
He said even if the Department of Labor maintained the claims adjudication, it would need to share information it collects for other functions with a private company.
“It shouldn’t be in two different areas,” Gordon said.
He said the state already has the infrastructure to manage this type of program.
AFSCME Local 269 Vice President Marsha Tulloch said she came from the division that crafted the current regulations for unpaid Family and Medical Leave.
“We are subject-matter experts who have the training and the commitment to do the job right — and do it impartially, with full accountability to the public,” Tulloch said.
She said they already have wage information and a list of all employers.
“I think it would be an easier fit and a quicker fit to have us administer the program,” Tulloch said.
It’s unclear exactly how many employees will eventually be hired to administer the program if it becomes law. Gordon estimated that it would be between 100 and 120.
The fiscal note for the legislation says the state will have to hire between four and eight additional staff — two principal attorneys, five staff attorneys, and one administrative assistant — at a cost of between $414,690 and $863,938 in fiscal year 2021.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, released a statement in response to the DOL petition Monday afternoon:
“This petition speaks to that fact that for some, paid family medical leave is not about creating a sustainable, effective and efficient benefits system. It’s about pumping more taxpayer dollars into state government to hire more state employees, even if that means less money for actual paid family medical leave benefits,” Fasano said. “If a private company can manage a paid family medical leave program at a lower cost with better results, why should the governor reject that direction? Why should the only path forward be one that involves hiring more state employees and putting more on the state’s credit card?
“These demands by union leaders show that many in state government are not focused on creating the most effective and efficient paid family medical leave system,” Fasano continued. “They are focused on adding more state employees at all costs. In addition, at a time when the Department of Labor lacks the ability to manage even its current responsibilities according to the state auditors, we should all have serious concerns about this department potentially managing any new program, especially one as massive as paid family medical leave.”