The House of Representatives approved an arbitration award Thursday granting state police troopers raises and a paid lunch break.
That award, coupled with five tentative contracts with other unions approved Wednesday in the House, would cost the state $32 million over the next two-year budget cycle and $58 million in total by the time all of these contracts expire in 2022.
The Democrat-controlled House voted 90-45, largely along party lines to approve the arbitration award for troopers.
That award and the tentative contract agreements now head to the Senate for consideration.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, who introduced the arbitration award on the House floor, defended what he conceded was a significant award, saying troopers are an understaffed workforce doing difficult and often dangerous work. He noted the deaths of two troopers in 2018.
The union includes 881 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants this year, compared with 1,075 three years ago.
D’Agostino said the state can easily cover the cost of the raises. The budget includes a special reserve for raises. The account is expected to contain about $77 million when the new, biennial budget cycle begins on July 1, he said.
But Republican legislators countered that the big picture tells a different story.
State finances, unless adjusted, are on pace to run more than $3 billion in deficit over the next two fiscal years combined.
And even though Connecticut has $1.2 billion in its budget reserve, and $77 million set aside for raises, GOP lawmakers said the focus must be on cutting costs.
“We’re still making wrong decisions,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, adding that Connecticut should be able to support these raises but can’t because Democratic legislators have failed to prioritize their spending. “I want to vote for this. … But this state has taken that choice away from us.”
Rep. Thomas O’Dea, R-Ledyard, said he would tell one of his friends who is a state trooper that “you deserve (the raise.) You’ve earned it. We just can’t afford it.”
According to the arbitration award, troopers must be available to be contacted and dispatched during their meal, and also must take the break within their respective patrol areas.
The union has a lawsuit pending against the state regarding the current conditions of the meal break, and this award — if ratified by the legislature — would resolve that dispute, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said last week.
Besides being paid during the meal break, the arbitration award also calls for police to receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise next fiscal year and a 2.25 percent hike in both 2021 and 2022. Members not at the top of the pay scale also would be eligible for step increases each year.
Arbitrator James W. Mastriani awarded no cost-of-living adjustment or step increases for troopers for the current fiscal year, noting that many state employees forfeited raises from 2017 through 2019 as part of a concessions deal ratified two years ago.
The troopers’ union also had declined to provide wage concessions when most other bargaining units provided them in 2011.
The arbitrator also accepted a proposal from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to eliminate longevity pay for state police. The 2011 concessions deal eliminated longevity pay for new hires in most other state employee unions. Lawmakers subsequently eliminated longevity bonuses for non-union staff.
Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, questioned one element of the arbitration award that stipulates allegations against troopers — if deemed unsubstantiated after an investigation by internal affairs — are exempt from public disclosure.
D’Agostino said this is only a clarification of an existing practice, and that he believes such unsubstantiated claims already are not available for public review.
“It really, if you think about it, is a continuation of a bedrock principle: that you are innocent until you are proven guilty,” he said.
On Wednesday the House voted, also largely along party lines, to approve five tentative contracts that Lamont’s administration recently negotiated.
Most of these involve very small bargaining units, including some newly unionized groups seeking to join larger units.
These agreements call for 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises in each of the next two fiscal years for unions representing:
- Plant facility engineers.
- Managers, engineers, planners and other professionals.
- Judicial Branch lawyers.
- Court planners, administrative support staff and paralegals.
- Information technology specialists for the court system.