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Secret Union Talks Equal Big Public Costs 

Governor Lamont’s administration still hasn’t revealed the terms of new labor agreements negotiated with state employee unions. But the unions themselves aren’t being shy about the deal they scored. 

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), a consortium of 15 labor unions that together represent about 44,000 state workers, issued a 12-page brochure to encourage union members to ratify each bargaining unit’s version of the deal. Members of the General Assembly will be asked to approve the contracts in coming weeks. 

The SEBAC literature confirms details reported by the CT Mirror: every state employee in a SEBAC union would receive bonuses totaling $3,500, three annual general wage increases of 2.5 percent retroactive to last summer, and, where applicable, seniority-based “step” or “increment” raises. 

Using the 2020 average total pay for workers in the state pension system ($74,297) as a base, the immediate cash payments headed to most unionized state workers employed as of March 31 would be: 

  • $2,500 bonus; 
  • retroactive 2.5 percent raise (resulting in an immediate cash payment averaging almost $1,400); and 
  • retroactive seniority-based step and increment raises (roughly 2 percent of pay, with an average of about $1,100 in immediate cash for the two-thirds of workers expected to get them). 

Put another way, in many if not most cases, the bonuses will be just half of payout coming immediately after ratification. 

But wait, there’s more: in July, workers covered by SEBAC would get: 

  • $1,000 bonus; 
  • an additional 2.5 percent raise (worth about $1,900, on average); and 
  • another seniority-based raise (averaging about $1,500, where eligible). 

All three categories of payments would count toward pensions—meaning there will be an immediate effect on the state’s long-term liabilities (and what taxpayers must pony up in the short-term).  

The tentative deals come after unionized state employees pocketed raises in both 2019 and 2020 worth 3.5 percent each year—with most also getting seniority-based raises. The 2020 raises were noteworthy because the state was forced to grant them automatically, even as its own ability to pay was in doubt and more than 210,000 residents were out of work following the COVID lockdowns. 

Looking exclusively at those across-the-board raises and the ones promised for this and the next two fiscal years, the deals would have state employees getting raises totaling more than 15 percent—without factoring in seniority raises—between 2019 and 2023. Someone receiving incremental or “step” increases based on seniority, which are generally around 2 percent, could see their pay rise almost 26 percent during the same period. 

SEBAC in its brochure also says the unions are continuing to separately press for “pandemic pay,” a $2,000 payment for each full-time “essential” worker, with the goal of getting members “as much as possible.” 

What’s the pricetag? 

The fiscal 2023 budget revisions proposed last month by Governor Lamont called for using $305 million of the state’s surplus to cover the “impact” during the current fiscal year. It’s not clear how much, if anything, the Lamont administration received by way of givebacks. To reiterate, the only information has come from media reports and leaks, not state government itself. 

Connecticut’s union deals tend to cost more than expected. Purported “savings” negotiated with SEBAC under Governor Malloy in 2017 never fully materialized (which may be why the General Assembly is weighing a proposal to eliminate annual reports on the subject). 

More than one-third of the state budget goes toward pay and benefits, which are governed predominantly by union contracts. The agreements also set rules about how the state workforce operates—meaning they control how state government itself operates. 

The contracts have featured prominently in nearly every budget crunch the state has faced since the early 1990s, when union leaders refused to make concessions to close a billion-dollar-plus budget gap unless Governor Lowell Weicker pushed to create a personal income tax. 

The state’s rosy revenue projections haven’t been updated since January, before all three major U.S. stock indices entered or approached bear market territory and oil prices spiked. The state’s jobs recovery has also shown signs of stalling out, as Connecticut had fewer private-sector jobs in January than it did in November or December. 

This, of course, won’t be a concern for the SEBAC unions, since they’ll have a seemingly iron-clad commitment for bonuses and raises once the General Assembly blesses the deal. 

After that, it’s the taxpayers’ problem. 

This page will be updated as new details are revealed.  

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