At right, Gov. Ned Lamont and AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler at job fair in Hartford. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Ashley Bragg has been taking 911 calls as a dispatcher in Hartford for nine years, a lost decade of sorts for municipal and state agencies that went lean during the Great Recession and only now are beginning to recover. 

Bragg’s standard shift has been 12 hours, and Gov. Ned Lamont said after a private meeting with her and other public employees Wednesday that staff shortages occasionally have meant an 80-hour week. 

Public-sector employment in Connecticut began a long nosedive in mid-2008, shedding nearly 40,000 jobs from a peak of 260,500 in June 2008 to a low of 221,300 in February 2021.

The good news for Bragg is Hartford is recruiting. But so are other municipal and state agencies, competing for workers in a tight labor market. Money woes have eased for the public sector, but demographics are a challenge.

State government has filled 9,400 vacancies in the past year, but some workers go out the door as new ones arrive.

Workers born at the peak of the post-war baby boom are turning 66 this year, and there are fewer workers to replace them as they retire. There are a long list of open jobs: cops, social workers, nurses, teachers, transportation engineers — and 911 dispatchers.

On Wednesday, an unusual job fair at Dunkin Park, a minor-league ballpark in Hartford, put labor and management on the same side, with union leaders who typically bemoan the pay and benefits offered their members now bragging about the compensation.

“There has never been a better time to apply for a career in public service,” said Jody Barr, the executive director of AFSCME Council 4, which represents tens of thousands of public-sector workers in Connecticut.

The national leaders of AFSCME, the largest public-sector union in the U.S., and the AFL-CIO worked with the Lamont administration and municipal officials to tout careers in government.

Lee Saunders, national president of AFSCME, has been on a bus tour promoting the union’s campaign to help state and municipal governments bolster their workforces. On the bus is the message: “Staff The Front Lines.”

“Public service jobs are available at the state, municipal, schools,” Saunders said. “In the city of Hartford, across Connecticut, from coast to coast, the help wanted sign is out.”

Liz Shuler, national president of the AFL-CIO, said the AFSCME campaign is unusual.

“It is a model of labor and management coming together to solve problems, and it can be replicated across all kind of industries, ‘cause we’re seeing workforce shortage in not just the public sector, but across the board,” Shuler said. 

The jobs fair was staffed by a broad range of public employees, including police officers in uniform, as well as human resources representatives.

Aimee Reyes-Greaves, a correctional industries supervisor in the state prison system, was there to answer questions about her career. 

“Working in corrections is not an easy job. But it is an incredibly important job that you can be proud of, as I am,” she said. “These are good union jobs with excellent pay and great benefits.”

The executive branch of state government, which does not include higher education or the court system, currently has 6,000 jobs that are funded but vacant.

Lamont noted that, in addition to the need to hire to fill vacancies from retirements and jobs that once went empty for fiscal reasons, the state is gearing up for years of transportation infrastructure work.

“We need engineers, we need construction workers, we need each and every one of you,” Lamont said. “It’s a great time to be a young person.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.