Around 36,000 state employees who worked in-person through the early pandemic will receive bonuses under a $49 million arbitration agreement approved Wednesday by lawmakers in the House.
The resolution cleared the House on a bipartisan, 129 to 15 vote after a short floor debate. The state Senate is expected to raise the agreement for a vote next week.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, a Hamden Democrat who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said the bonuses recognized the state employees who continued to work at the height of the pandemic before a COVID vaccine was available.
“[When] there was no end in sight, these employees — thousands of them — came to work every day,” D’Agostino said. “When law and order needed to be maintained, they went to work. When emergencies needed to be responded to, they went to work. When the sick and disabled needed to be cared for, they went to work.”
The agreement was the product of negotiations between Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which went to arbitration late last year. In March, labor arbitrator Susan Meredith sided with the union coalition’s last best offer in an award that included different levels of compensation for two categories of state employees.
Higher risk workers like first responders, health care professionals and employees of congregate settings who will receive bonuses of between $250 and $2,834, depending on how many hours they worked between March of 2020 and March of 2021. Lower risk employees will receive between $125 and $1,417, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
The resolution makes employees who worked more than 200 hours of overtime during the covered period eligible for additional compensation ranging from $135 to $3,126, depending on the hours worked and risk.
On Wednesday the agreement found support with many of the chamber’s Republican members despite complaints that the bonuses were limited to public sector workers. Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, said there was no question the covered state employees deserved to be compensated.
“They did what they had to do and there should be some recognition of that,” Nuccio, who voted for the resolution, said. “It’s a little disconcerting to me that people outside of state employees did not receive the same recognition from this legislative body, but I don’t dispute that this is an award that is warranted.”
Fifteen Republicans voted against the resolution including Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, who said that the stresses of the early pandemic were universal and not limited to front line state workers.
“Restaurants were forced to close because there weren’t any patrons,” Weir said. “You had contractors who couldn’t get into people’s homes to do work. Their businesses were slowed down or shuttered. Realtors had no clients because people weren’t selling their homes, they were staying put. I thought back to that time by contrast, no public employees went without a paycheck.”
Connecticut did provide bonuses to front line private sector workers last year through a program called Premium Pay. However, the program, initially designed to provide payments of $1,000, was underfunded.
Although lawmakers boosted state support for the initiative from $30 million to $105 million during a special session in November, only workers making less than $50,000 were eligible for $1,000 payments and those making between $100,000 and $150,000 received as little as $100.