In the wake of the pandemic, workers in both the private and public sectors received cash rewards for keeping essential services operational. While these individuals received well-deserved recognition, a noticeable contrast has emerged between cash payouts received by state employees and their private sector counterparts.
Recent data received through a Freedom of Information request shows that 12,954 (57%) out of 22,614 state employees received payment awards totaling $1,000 or more, with some individuals receiving payouts reaching $5,688. Conversely, 66,038 (42%) out of 156,439 private sector workers received $1,000 — the maximum payout the program allowed.
The inequity between public and private sector “hero pay” started as soon as the concept came before the legislature.
Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly passed legislation that set aside $35 million from the American Rescue Plan’s funds to pandemic pay for state employees, but only $30 million for the remaining essential workers in the state; additionally, the state promised $1,000 checks to be awarded on a first come first served basis. Put another way, state employees were able to divvy up $35 million amongst approximately 23,000 workers versus $30 million for the almost 156,500 members of the private sector who qualified.
Nevertheless, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) couldn’t come to terms in determining the amount of pandemic pay awarded to state employees, so the matter went to arbitration where — according to the decision — they were given an additional $10 million. The decision was then passed by the General Assembly in April.
To remedy the underfunded private sector plan, Connecticut Comptroller Sean Scanlon asked the General Assembly for an additional $122 million during the November 2022 special session. In a press conference prior to that session, Scanlon stated additional resources were needed so the state could “keep the promise, and get the bonuses for private sector workers as close to that $1,000 figure as possible.”
Gov. Lamont countered Scanlon’s request by agreeing to increase funding to $90 million. However, the increase fell short, as the program would have needed to be funded at $130 million to be able to pay qualified workers the promised $1,000 bonus.
The inequity did not stop there. Eligibility requirements varied greatly. Essential workers in the business sector were paid based on salary — capped at $149,999 — and received payments on a sliding scale with those making less than $50,000 receiving $1,000 and those earning over $100,000 receiving $100.
To qualify, state employees only had to work on-site for 180 regular hours or 200 overtime hours. Payments were based on the hours the employees worked and risk level. For example, a licensed practical nurse at Connecticut Valley Hospital payment amount was $5,688, while their counterpart in the private sector would have only received $1,000 but only if they earned less than $50,000. If that private sector nurse made $150,000, they would have received nothing.
According to the arbitration decision, neither New York nor Rhode Island issued any kind of premium pay to employees. Vermont only provided premium pay to corrections officers. Massachusetts provided lump sum checks of $2,000 for full-time in-person work and $1,500 for part-time or hybrid workers. The only surrounding state more generous than Connecticut was New Hampshire which had awards ranging from $2,400 to $6,300 based on the employee’s job.
Connecticut state workers already have some of the most generous benefits and salaries in the country. At the same time, they earn 28 percent more than the private sector, which cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually. With the state handing out bigger bonuses to state employees they are sending a message that they view SEBAC as more heroic than those in the private sector.