SEIU Television Ad Delivers Mixed Message

In response to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s planned budget cuts, the SEIU, District 1199, released a television ad Monday featuring some of its members declaring that they are “not a political football.” However, based on some of the salary and benefit packages these workers received it would appear they have already scored a touchdown.

SEIU 1199 represents 7,600 union employees in Connecticut and according to Darnell Ford, one of the union members who appears in the advertisement, he is “not sure how the state employee is actually driving that cost as much as they say that we’re driving it.” But Ford should know as has served on the SEIU negotiating committee at the Department of Children & Families’ Riverview facility.

DCF pays its employees more than $365 million per year in salary and benefits, according to the legislature’s transparency website. Ford personally received $75,690 in wages in 2015 plus $49,352 in overtime. Overtime is factored into state employee pensions, which helps explain why state employee pay and benefits are driving the state’s budget crisis.

Ford’s fringe benefits are valued at $39,591.

Similarly, Denise Bystrek, who claimed she was not a “political football” in the commercial, made more than $100,000 in 2015 with an additional $35,000 in benefits as a nurse for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The average salary for a nurse in Connecticut is $76,000 per year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Vivian Riera Llantin, who also appeared in the commercial, works at the Department of Public Health as a “health program associate.” DPH paid her $80,877 in wages, plus $34,082 in fringe benefits.

Although union employee salaries can be expensive, the real cost drivers are the retirement and health benefits which continue long after the employee has left public service. Connecticut currently has $25.7 billion in unfunded liabilities for pensions according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The state also ranks 48th in the nation for funding those pensions, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, there is $22.6 billion in unfunded retiree healthcare benefits. Each shortfall exceeds a single-year state budget.

Benefits like these cause Connecticut state employees to make at least 25 percent more than non-government employees with the same skills and experience.

News reports identified Bystrek, Ford and Riera Llantin, but two other participants could not be readily identified.

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