Ctnewsjunkie file photo
Rep. Michael D’Agostino (Ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A new contract for the 900-plus Connecticut state troopers that calls for a 6.5 percent pay increase over a three-year span starting in fiscal year 2020 was approved by a 90-to-45 vote of the House Thursday, largely along party lines.

Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said the raises are well deserved because “our state police are unique,” stating that in many states police serve primarily as highway patrol officers. That’s not the case, in Connecticut, where state troopers are called on, on a daily basis to take on a myriad of roles, D’Agostino said, many of them life-threatening.

“On any given day they (a trooper) could give their life for the state of Connecticut,” D’Agostino said, stating that two did just that last year.

The contract will cost the state nearly $48 million over the life of the pact, but D’Agostino noted that because the state police force is currently staffed at a level 200 less than just a few years ago, more than $35 million has been saved due to the understaffing, even when factoring in overtime that has been paid out to cover shifts.

An arbitrator, who heard testimony from both sides over three days earlier this year, agreed to several new provisions added by the state police union, including a paid 30-minute lunch period. Under the previous agreement, troopers were not paid for lunch and were required to remain ready to jump into duty if their help was needed.

Asked about the lunch provision, D’Agostino said it’s because troopers “are always” on duty and are not able to set aside specific time for breaks. So, instead, he said, the lunch-period allotment was built into the contract.

The paid lunch period will cost the state $4 million a year, according to figures provided by the state Office of Fiscal Analysis. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for retroactive raises dating back to July 2018, but agreed to a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal year 2020, and a 2.25 percent pay increase for 2021 and 2022.

The cost of the contract was a sticking point with Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton – along with several other Republican House members who said while they respected the work state police do they couldn’t vote for a contract when they’ve yet to take a vote on an overall state budget.

“This has nothing to do with the state police with whom I have the greatest respect,” Lavielle said, “but money doesn’t grow on trees.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, gave a pointed speech on why she was voting against the contract.

“Today I am angry and sad,” Klarides said. She said she and her colleagues “could have voted for this contract and felt good about it,” stating the one group of workers who deserve good raises are law enforcement. But, Klarides said, she couldn’t bring herself to do that because of, in her words, the bad contracts that had been voted into law before the state police contract came up for a vote.

“We continue to make the same mistakes, pass legislation, negotiate contracts that we simply cannot afford,” Klarides said.

After Klarides finished speaking, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, got up and said the contract was a good one, well deserved by police and asked his colleagues for “their support.”

One aspect of the contract that has advocates for transparency concerned is a clause that would limit information the agency releases.

The language in the contract says the troopers’ personnel file or internal affairs investigation “with only a disposition of ‘Exonerated. Unfounded or Not Sustained’ shall not be subject to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.”

Andrew Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union, said the public has the right to any substantiated investigation. However, he doesn’t believe they have the right to anonymous allegations made by the public or other officers.

“We have seen an uptick in anonymous complaints,” Matthews said explaining the impetus for the clause.

But he maintained they were not trying to hide anything by adding this provision to the contract.

“We disagree with the exemption created in this new state police contract,” Mike Savino, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. “The public has an interest in reviewing all investigation into the conduct of public employees. But our bigger objection is to the continued use of collective bargaining to create FOI exemptions for select groups of state employees. The public’s right to know is a matter of public policy and exemptions shouldn’t be treated as if they are perks of the job.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said if the members felt strongly enough they could pass legislation that could eliminate that part of the contract in three years when the contract expires.

However, the two were reluctant to send the contract back to arbitration over the issue.

“We were not at the negotiating table,” Aresimowicz said.

The state police have been without a contract since July 2018. When negotiations between the union and state officials broke down, the contract went to arbitration.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.