The state House of Representatives took a significant step July 24 toward solving Connecticut’s fiscal crisis by ratifying a concessions deal with the state workforce.
The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) agreement now heads to the state Senate for further consideration. If passed by the state Senate, the savings achieved by this historic deal are substantial and unprecedented.
Under this agreement, taxpayers are expected to save $1.5 billion in the next biennium and $24 billion over the next 20 years.
Unionized state employees voted overwhelmingly in favor of the agreement – 83 percent to 17 percent. Thousands of middle-class state workers have agreed to zero wage increases for three years, higher health copays and premiums, three unpaid furlough days next year and increased pension contributions.
In addition, this agreement will pay off the state’s unfunded pension liability in 30 years and create a new retirement class for employees hired after July 1, 2017. For the first time, these workers will participate in a hybrid defined contribution plan.
What do we, as a state, give up for these collectively bargained for concessions? Most significantly, we agree to extend the current pension and health care agreement – the very deal that contains these deep structural changes – to 2027.
There are those who say that is too much, that we can and should just end collective bargaining in Connecticut and impose these conditions unilaterally on state workers. Doing so would be legally and morally wrong.
Let’s be clear: Making any deep structural changes to state employees’ pension and health care while the current collective bargaining agreement is in effect would plunge us into litigation.
This is a battle we will likely lose because the U.S. Constitution bars any state from repudiating its contractual obligations.
Even unilateral “statutory” changes that take effect in the future – such as moving retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan or making cost of living adjustments – can be successfully challenged. Retirees can challenge these changes if it affects the current value of their retirement plans.
The only way to achieve such changes and savings that are free of litigation risk to the state is to collectively bargain for them, as we have done.
But the choice to accept or reject the agreement is not just financial or legal, it’s moral.
Our state workers live here, raise their families here, pay their taxes here and spend their money here. They protect us, build our roads, maintain our parks, drive our buses, and care for our elderly, our infirm and our disabled. Their work touches almost all aspects of our lives. And all of their work has dignity.
For years, these workers have put the best interests of the state ahead of their own. They’ve made sacrifices, taken wage cuts and seen their health care costs increase.
Our unionized state workforce helped build the middle class in this state. And through this agreement, they are helping preserve the middle class in this state.
Our state employees have done their part, now it’s time for us to do ours.
State Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, is vice chairman of the General Law Committee, and a member of the Commerce, Executive & Legislative Nominations, and Planning & Development committees.