Lawmakers in Connecticut’s House of Representatives signed off on a plan to give state workers a set of raises and bonuses Thursday in a mostly partisan vote on a negotiated labor agreement.
The House voted 96 to 52 in support of the deal with 1 Republican, Rep. Tom Delnicki of South Windsor, joining all Democrats in supporting it. The vote followed a debate, limited to three hours each for opponents and supporters, in an agreed upon departure from the state legislature’s tradition of unlimited debate.
Before 2017, these types of labor deals would go into effect without legislative action. The bipartisan budget that year required a vote on labor agreements.
The plan, negotiated by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and a coalition of public sector labor unions, provides three years of 2.5% raises and step increases as well as a total of $3,500 in bonuses for most workers. It has been ratified by workers and still requires approval by the state Senate. Fiscal analysts estimate the deal will cost about $1.87 billion over four years.
During a floor debate Thursday, Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, characterized the agreement as an incentive to keep state employees on the job amid a surge of retirements driven by years of benefit givebacks by public workers.
“We’re hemorrhaging workers right now,” D’Agostino said. “We’re losing them en masse to the private sector. Nursing, IT, finance, engineering. And we’ve also got a number who are retiring because of those structural changes that we made. So that’s the context that we find ourselves in now and we have to recognize why this deal is appropriate for the time that we are in.”
Throughout the afternoon, Republicans called the deal an unaffordable commitment for Connecticut taxpayers.
“Deserve has nothing to do with it,” Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said. “Of course our public sector unions deserve this money, deserve this raise, but we can’t afford it because at the end of the day we’re overtaxed.”
Several lawmakers objected to the agreement’s inclusion of both raises and bonuses. Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, said he found it more problematic that the deal potentially allowed state workers to accept a bonus then retire anyways, counting the additional pay towards their pensions.
“To have that clause that you can retire after you’ve received the bonus and have it pensionable — to me just doesn’t sound right. If you’re going to get a bonus, you’re going to stick on with us for a while,” Case said. “If we had just the 2.5% raises put in front of us, we’d have a lot of green on the board and we could move this state forward. I think it’s the stipend and the bonuses that really give people a lot of trouble.”
Supporters of the agreement contended the bonuses will ultimately result in savings for the state. D’Agostino said their impact on pensions would be negligible and the one-time payments gave union negotiators an incentive to avoid pushing for more substantial raises. Given the state’s current budget surplus, an arbitrator would likely award raises of more than 3% per year, he said.
“By doing the one-time payments instead of a 3 or 3.5, you know what that saves over 10 years? $150 to $200 million,” D’Agostino said. “That’s remarkable. That’s a great job negotiating by the state of Connecticut.”
The state Senate is expected to raise the agreement for a vote following a debate Friday.
In a press release following the vote, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition thanked lawmakers who supported the deal and said policymakers could not support state workers without supporting the necessary funds to ensure their positions are staffed.
“I am happy to see so many legislators not only support our state workers, but all of their constituents that rely on the critical public services we provide,” Travis Woodward, CSEA SEIU Local 2001 president, said. “I am grateful to Representative Tom Delnicki for having the courage to vote in favor of this contract.”