It was revolutionary for its time. Enacted in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act gave workers in private industry the right to organize and collectively bargain. For public employees, however, there is no such federal right. Each state determines whether to allow its public employees to collectively bargain.

For four decades after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, Connecticut did not negotiate with its employees on issues ranging from working conditions and wages to pensions and health care.

The results were disastrous.

Salaries fluctuated from year-to-year and from bargaining unit to bargaining unit based simply on the vagaries of who was favored by those in power at a particular time.

Safety conditions would be addressed only after horrible accidents or deaths on the job. Health care was minimal, when provided at all. Most importantly, without a collectively bargained agreement, the state was under no contractual obligation to save for pensions promised to workers. While the employees paid their share for retirement, the state barely saved a dime. Those four decades of neglect by the state is the principal cause of our pension deficit today.

Most Connecticut residents – indeed, many public employees – have forgotten this past.
One person who has not is the legendary Edward Daly, a Vernon resident and current president of the of the CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Retiree Council, also known as Council 400.

In 1958, Daly began working full-time as a dairy inspector with the state Department of Agriculture. He experienced firsthand how salary, working conditions and health benefits depended on the yearly whims of the government. When Daly’s eldest child was born in 1961, he had no coverage for the birth and hospital stay. The hospital threatened to throw his wife and newborn child out until Daly purchased a supplemental policy.

To address this, Daly and other workers formed the Connecticut State Employees Association. In 1975, they were able to pass legislation through the General Assembly that granted public employees the formal right to organize and bargain with the state, in return for a commitment never to strike. The first negotiated state employee contract followed in 1978.

Connecticut has been better for it.

It is through collective bargaining that the state can manage predictable costs for a stable workforce. It is through collective bargaining that state employees saved Connecticut $1.5 billion in this latest budget cycle and $24 billion in costs over the next 20 years. And it is through collective bargaining – and only through collective bargaining – that the state now has a contractual, legal obligation to save for its retirement obligations and is closing that pension deficit.

None of this would have been possible without women and men like Ed Daly. It was my privilege and pleasure to interview Daly recently. The stories he tells of his experiences can be seen here.

It should be required viewing not only for our current state employees, but anyone who believes that all workers in this state should continue to have the right to organize and bargain for decent wages, health care and a basic retirement.

State Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, is chairman of the General Law Committee, and a member of the Executive & Legislative Nominations and Planning & Development committees.

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