Pay raise for 46,000 state workers clears key hurdle

More than 46,000 Connecticut state employees could soon get a significant raise -- and bonuses – thanks to a new union contract that won approval in a key legislative committee Monday.
Critics say the deal is too generous and could lead to future tax hikes. But Gov. Ned Lamont believes it will keep critical state workers on the job.
"I've got to recruit and keep them in order to keep our government going,” he said.
The contract with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition covers college professors, state troopers and prison guards -- as well some teachers and nurses. Many of those areas already face staffing shortages.
"Often they work in dorms where there are one or two officers to keep peace among 100 of more inmates,” said Sean Howard, a corrections officer at Cheshire Correctional Institution.
The proposed contract is generous. It includes 2.5% raises for four straight years that would be retroactive to July 1, 2021. On top of that, most workers would "step" into a higher pay grade, adding an extra 2% to most raises.
There are also new bonuses: $2,500 next month and an extra $1,000 in mid-July.
Lamont hopes the extra money will slow a wave of retirements before July 1, when pension benefits drop as part of previous union concessions. But it’s unclear if the bonuses will stop many workers, since they can still collect the $2,500 bonus even if they retire anyway.
"I come out of the private sector. When you do good work, you get a bonus,” said Lamont. “But … we have a bonus that starts after July 1. That's an incentive to keep people working after that retirement date."
Critics also balk at the cost. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates the contract will cost the state $1.87 billion over three years.
"I'm very concerned this is unsustainable,” opponent Kevin Maloney told lawmakers at a public hearing Monday.
Republicans argue the SEBAC package will lead to big deficits in a few years -- and tax hikes.
"Today is Tax Day … People want to know where their tax dollars are going,” said Kim Healy, a GOP Wilton selectman running for the Connecticut House of Representatives. “It is tone deaf and appears to even regular folks like me to be pandering to special interests in an election year."
The Lamont administration and SEBAC argue the deal is actually good for taxpayers, because an arbitrator would likely award workers even bigger raises. State employee unions offered concessions in 2009, 2011 and 2017.
The contract is not a done deal. The full General Assembly is expected to vote on it as early as this week.