From the AFT CT Blog

From the AFT Connecticut Blog
- Matt O'Connor

The roots of the public service crisis gripping communities across the nation run deep and sprouted more than a decade ago. Lyle Scruggs (in photo, above), a member of our affiliated UConn-AAUP, unearthed the seeds of short-staffing in state agencies in a recently published commentary. A professor of political science at the University of Connecticut (UConn), he connected policy decisions stunting growth and germinating an “outfit that pays less, has fewer benefits and now has 22% fewer workers:”

Connecticut is increasingly looking like a red state in the South. Yes, women have reproductive choice; we teach children that slavery was bad; and that climate change is real. But anti-government sentiment is in full force.

Consider this:

There are about 14,000 fewer full-time state employees today than 15 years ago, a reduction of 22% since 2008; Since 2020, general wage increases for state employees have been 10% less than inflation: a huge pay cut (that was preceded by a decade of real salary stagnation); & Current state workers have experienced large cuts in fringe benefits over the last decade (they receive less generous pensions and benefits and pay more for them).

Click here for reporting on the 2022 wave of retirements impacting the state workforce.

But don’t state workers get a raise just about every year? No. General wage increases were approved in the current contract and agreed on in the middle of the COVID pandemic. But they fall far short of rising prices. For 2021, 2022, 2023, pay increases for your state social workers, nurses, engineers, and teachers cumulatively amount to less than 7.8%.

Anyone living on a budget knows that all this amounts to a huge pay cut. Why? Inflation in that period was 18.4%. And by the next scheduled contractual salary increase (July 1, 2024), prices will be higher still. Remember: “lower inflation” means slower increases in prices: jogging uphill is not sprinting uphill, but you are still going up every year. Since the start of Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, prices are now up 0.9%. At that pace, inflation will be 3.7% this fiscal year, which is consistent with current inflation forecasts.

What has the state penciled into the budget for that next COVID contract raise: 2.5%! That’s right, after probably the largest set of real pay cuts in state history, the governor is proposing another real pay cut. That would bring the cuts during the COVID era – for the nurses, health aids, social workers, teachers, transportation employees, and law enforcement officials – to more than 12%. Some thanks for that service during the COVID pandemic.

It is actually even worse than that. In the decade before COVID – going back to the Great Recession – state workers also took real pay cuts and benefit reductions. A career nurse or prosecutor working the same job over the last 15 years has actually had a real pay cut of about 14%, not just 12%.

Click here for our report-back on the contracts state employee union members secured in 2022.

Didn’t we all take real pay cuts because of inflation? Well, no. Wages in the private sector in the state have caught up with inflation according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Total salaries in Connecticut increased by 26% between June 2020 and June 2023. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a real increase of about 7%.

State workers should share in state economic gains, especially during the COVID era. They should not be exploited by reducing their purchasing power. Aren’t they unionized?

Even retirees saw much larger benefit increases than our state’s employees. Connecticut’s 700,000 Social Security recipients received (or will soon receive) pension cost of living adjustments (COLAs) raising their pensions by more than 20% between January 2021 and January 2024. Surely the state caregivers working to help your developmentally disabled cousin deserve at least the same cost of living adjustments as retirees, not half that rate.

Click here for analysis of the growing private-public sector pay gap.

Can the state afford it? The state has been touting surpluses for years. Real income is up and has been since before COVID. The stock market has boomed; up 35% compared to the pre-COVID high, and over 300% since 2008. The governor’s budget people know how inflation works on budgets, especially when it is combined with economic growth and declining public employment. They also should also know that, just as the private sector must raise salaries to keep up with inflation, the public sector should (needs to) do the same.

If pay had kept up with inflation, state surpluses would still be there. With a little more money in state employees’ pockets, the state economy would also have been even a bit more robust.

Click here for recent reporting on the unprecedented health of Connecticut’s coffers.

But don’t state benefits compensate for those real wage cuts? No. Those “generous” state benefits ended over a decade ago. Today, state employees pay much more (from depleted paychecks) for fringe benefits than they used to. And the benefits are less generous: higher effective retirement age, trimming pensionable salary, lower COLA for state pensions, pre-funding retirement health care and greater participation in defined contribution plans.
Pay attention and understand this as well: “better benefits” were supposed to permit the state to pay lower salaries for similar talent. Remember: many state workers are skilled tradespeople, licensed care providers, engineers, and lawyers; many of these folks could earn higher pay and benefits in the private sector.

There used to be an understanding: if you choose public service and earn less, you will be taken care of in your healthcare and retirement. No more! Now public jobs struggle to attract enough talented people. Teachers are leaving the state. And many state employees are looked down on. Why work for an outfit that pays less, has fewer benefits and now has 22% fewer workers? Why work in a state where you are looked down on?

Click here for our latest report on national union efforts to tackle public sector short-staffing across the country.

Do the math. Compared to a decade ago, Connecticut is now asking teachers, police and public health workers to do about 30% more work for about 15% less real compensation, while clawing back more of that lower pay to provide less generous benefits. All while the citizens of this state have generally gotten richer. That’s more befitting “Make America Great Again” states like Florida and South Carolina, not Connecticut.

Fortunately, the governor and the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) can take a big step to solve this problem: raise general salary scales 15% on July 1, 2024. This would return state worker pay scales back into line with their pre-COVID levels, and would at least ensure that state worker pay keeps up with inflation as well as retiree pensions did. It may seem large, but it is modest and affordable: a 0% real wage increase over 15 years.

Click here for Scruggs’ original published commentary in CT Viewpoints.

The post Benefitting the Common Good by Bolstering Our Human Capital first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

Members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated public employee unions joined their colleagues from across the country last month to brainstorm solutions to shared challenges. They came together in Baltimore to tackle issues impacting their workplaces and communities ranging from staffing shortages to artificial intelligence (AI). Guided by the theme of the professional issues conference (PIC) for their division, activists collectively set their “Focus on the Future: Rebuilding our Communities with a Strong Public Service.”

A national crisis, fueled by nearly a million unfilled vacancies in the sector, drove constructive conversations aimed at staffing the front lines of government agencies at all levels. Earlier this year, our national union convened a task force that includes AFT Connecticut Secretary-Treasurer Shawn Brown. The leaders were charged with developing strategies to reverse these shortages.

Click here for national reporting on the crisis and labor-led efforts to address it.

Many of the conference’s workshops and panel discussions drilled down on recommendations from the task force’s forthcoming report:

Negotiate a 35-hour workweek to help both recruit and retain workers; Evaluate public jobs for hybrid telework options whenever possible; Reduce the pay gap between public and private professionals; Create benefit options across the life cycle; Extend mental health support systems beyond short-term perks; Strengthen defined-benefit pensions to make them equitable and robust; Build a pipeline of workers through apprenticeships, internships, “service year” programs and “second chance” job opportunities; Invest in human resources professionals; Shorten the timeline for hiring staff; & Update all job descriptions regularly.

Click here for our national union’s previous update on the task force’s formation.

Brown’s colleagues in our affiliated University Health Professionals (in photo, above) brought their firsthand experience confronting the impacts of short-staffing at UConn Health, Connecticut’s only public academic medical center. They also shared examples of concrete solutions, including collaboration with their employer at a recent job fair organized by fellow state employee union members.

Click here to watch highlights from the “Staff the Front Lines” event in Hartford.

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel teamed up with our AFT Public Employees division’s program and policy council chair to lead a workshop on digital technology and AI. They provided an overview of the ways these challenges are presenting themselves to government workforces, as well as legislative and collective bargaining strategies for addressing them.

“AI has the potential to revolutionize our work; to make it easier, faster, more accurate,” she told workshop attendees. “Our greatest challenges are the lack of transparency in understanding what’s happening in public services with this technology – and the lack of accountability when things go wrong.”

Hochadel shared her experience participating in a three-year Digital Rights Organizer training provided by Public Services International (PSI), where she co-chairs the inter-American regional executive committee. The global labor federation is helping to empower union members and hold public authorities accountable for how – and why – they introduce disruptive technologies.

Click here for PSI’s Digital Rights Organizer training material.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by words and concepts we may not understand right now,” Hochadel added. “This is the future of our work and our union representation,” she added.

Editor’s note: includes contributions from Annette Licitra, AFT.

The post Tapping the Collective “Potential to Revolutionize Our Work” first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

Recent headlines touting continued job growth in Connecticut have obscured lackluster gains for the state’s chronically understaffed public sector. Sinéad Ruane, (right, in photo above), a chapter secretary in our affiliated CSU-AAUP, and fellow union member Jason Snyder (left), parsed the numbers in order to bring to light the broader implications in a recently published opinion editorial. Together, they warned that “public services will cease to be a mechanism to combat systemic racism if we fail to make the critical investments we need:”

The Connecticut Department of Labor (CTDOL)’s latest quarterly review of employment and wages (QCEW) indicated there was a strong economic forecast amid the post-pandemic resurgence. This supposedly is due to the state seeing a 3.2% increase in jobs during 2022. While at first glance this upward trajectory may show positive strides in the economy, without context this data point doesn’t paint a clear picture. It fails to examine the data through a broader lens – one that underscores the struggles that working families are facing, public and private, as the cost of living continues to soar.

Click here for the state labor department’s latest QCEW report.

As business professors in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system (Ruane is associate professor of management and organization and Snyder is professor and department chair of marketing at Central Connecticut State University), we believe it is important for that context to be provided.

The public sector, including public higher education, has always provided a ladder to advance the economic standing of generations of state residents. Not only are we proud to help our students work toward their dreams, but we acknowledge the role of state institutions in positioning faculty to help future generations.

One of us is a first-generation college student who benefited from public education throughout life. The other, who has studied in public universities in three different countries, understands that the commitment to making education accessible and affordable to all is a deliberate policy choice. Therefore, we feel compelled to help provide additional information as you consider the data.

The report highlights a 3.4% increase in total private industry employment but a minor bump in government employment which signals a well-known and data-backed fact – the public sector remains woefully underfunded and understaffed. And, since this increase includes local and federal employment and is following an historic state retirement wave, this small increase raises further concerns at the state level.

Click here to watch highlights of a recent joint labor-management public sector job fair.

One of the most striking revelations in the data is the growth in average annual wages. While this is undoubtedly positive, with an overall 4.4% wage increase across Connecticut jobs in 2022, it’s essential to view this wage growth through the lens of equity. The report indicates that private sector wages increased by 4.5% to $82,373, while government wages grew by 3.2% to $73,754. But even at the upper limit, living in Connecticut is increasingly unaffordable. The median rent in Connecticut is $2,000, utility rates remain nationally ranked for most expensive, health care costs are soaring, and these stagnant wage growth patterns are not keeping up.

Furthermore, public services have always served as a two-way path to the working class, especially for our residents of color, offering public services in an accessible manner while also providing good working-class jobs to lift families into the middle class. Public services will cease to be a mechanism to combat systemic racism if we fail to make the critical investments we need.

Click here for another union activist’s recently published op-ed demanding equity for the under-served.

It’s important to also recognize the economic benefits of strong workforce growth – in the public and private sector – and that they can be maximized through a well-educated and highly skilled workforce. This is where public higher education institutions play an indispensable role, providing affordable and local higher education options for students.

In fact, Connecticut State’s Capital campus, for example, ranks in the top five percent of two-year colleges nationwide when it comes to fostering upward mobility among its student body. Also, 55 percent of community college students are people of color and half of incoming students at state university campuses are racial or ethnic minorities.

Click here for our state employee union coalition’s recent online spot calling for public higher education investments.

So, as we celebrate the increase in job opportunities, we also must advocate for strategic investment in public higher education, which serves as a crucial pipeline for developing the skilled workforce demanded by emerging industries. For example, right now we are not graduating nearly enough civil engineering students to fill the jobs we expect to have in state employment over the next several years.

At a recent special legislative session, dozens of state employees from across state agencies came to the Capitol building with the hopes of urging lawmakers to address the $100 million deficit in public higher education funding. They explained to legislators that Connecticut’s trajectory toward prosperity hinges on a multi-faceted approach — one that combines private sector growth with robust public investments.

Click here for photos of lawmakers listening to union members’ “fund our future” message.

Public higher education is not a luxury but a cornerstone of this approach. By investing in public higher education, the state can cultivate a workforce that’s not only capable of driving economic innovation but is equipped to address the many challenges of our time. It’s a proven pathway to empower the working class, uplift marginalized communities and provide an avenue for upward mobility.

As experts dissect the QCEW data, we urge them to recognize that investment in public services isn’t an expenditure; it’s an investment in the future of our state. And, an investment in public higher education is an investment in the minds that will pioneer groundbreaking research, in the educators who will inspire generations, and in the workforce that will carry Connecticut into a prosperous tomorrow.

Click here for highlights of a recent demonstration members organized to denounce higher education cuts and tuition hikes.

So now we ask Governor Ned Lamont and members of the General Assembly, “what do you want your legacy to be?” One of groundbreaking development and unprecedented economic growth and development, or continued lackluster economic reports?

Click here for Ruane and Snyder’s original published commentary in The Courant.

The post Urging Investments in Public Higher Education first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

A new survey of adjunct faculty from our national union underscores the continuing crisis faced by millions of contingent workers at America’s colleges and universities. AFT’s latest “Army of Temps” report, the third in a series, finds little improvement to poverty wages and untenable conditions in the wake of the pandemic. It documents the troubling reality faced by millions of higher education professionals and illustrates adjuncts’ low pay, inadequate benefits, limited job security and lack of respect at work.

Click here for the full results of the latest survey.

As significant legislative incursions continue to impinge on their right to teach, fewer than half of those union members surveyed believe that employers will defend their academic freedom. More than two-thirds have contemplated leaving the academy in the past two years.

Despite all of this, faculty continue to give their all to support students under trying circumstances.

“Adjunct faculty teach the classes and do the research that makes universities run, but they are too often treated as second-class citizens,” said national AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Wages and conditions are so low that adjuncts are forced to cobble together three or four classes just to stay afloat – it’s untenable and unacceptable.”

The survey shows adjuncts and their unions are far from content to let this state of affairs persist in perpetuity. They are fighting back through political advocacy, organizing and collective bargaining to win fair treatment, with an eye toward social justice, for themselves, their students and the communities they serve.

Click here for recent press reporting on the survey results.

“Educators’ teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions—but it’s difficult to focus on the educational and social needs of your students when you don’t even know if you will have a paycheck coming next semester or whether that check will help you make ends meet,” added Weingarten.

The report contains feedback from 1,043 respondents at two-year and four-year institutions, both public and private. The 58-question survey, completed between May and June of 2022 follows up on previous studies conducted that showed strikingly similar results. The topline survey results show that:

More than one-quarter of respondents earn less than $26,500 annually; the percentage of faculty respondents earning below the federal poverty line has remained unchanged through all three reports, unsurprising with real wages falling behind inflation throughout the academy; Only 22.5 percent of respondents report having a contract that provides them with continuing employment, even assuming adequate enrollment and satisfactory job performance; For three out of four respondents, employment is only guaranteed for a term or semester at a time; Two-thirds of part-time respondents want to work full time but are offered only part-time work; Twenty-two percent of those responding report having anxiety about accessing adequate food, with another six percent reporting reduced food intake due to lack of resources; Only 45 percent of respondents have access to employer-provided health insurance, and nearly 19 percent rely on Medicare/Medicaid; Nearly half of faculty members surveyed have put off getting needed healthcare, including mental health services, and 68 percent have forgone dental care; Fewer than half of faculty surveyed have received the training they need to help students in crisis; & Only 45 percent of respondents believe that their college administration guarantees academic freedom in the classroom, at a time when right-wing legislators are passing laws curtailing educators’ curriculum control.

Click here for our national union’s previous report on adjunct faculty conditions.

“We’ve raised standards for Connecticut’s public higher education adjuncts at the bargaining table and in the statehouse,” said Dennis Bogusky (front row in photo, above), president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Federation of Technical College Teachers (FTCT). “None of the past gains made for contingent faculty and part-time staff were hand-outs; they were hard-fought and hard-won by keeping the pressure on.”

Over the last four decades, America’s academic labor pool has shifted dramatically. Forty years ago, 70 percent of academic employees were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, that figure has flipped; 68 percent of faculty are not eligible for tenure, and 47 percent hold part-time positions. Meanwhile, the numbers of management staff and their salaries have snowballed.

“These latest survey results add urgency to the current learning crisis,” added Bogusky, who also serves as our state federation’s vice president for higher education. “It shows that our elected officials must invest more – not less – in the frontline faculty and staff who instruct and support students in Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.”

Click here for recent reporting on local advocacy efforts to reverse public higher education budget cuts.

Of the AFT’s more than 200,000 higher education members nationally, 85,000 are contingent and 35,000 are graduate employees.

Editor’s note: includes contributions from national AFT communications staff.

The post “Keeping the Pressure On” for Improved Working Conditions first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

Tireless advocacy by members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated healthcare unions paid off earlier this year when state lawmakers adopted stronger hospital staffing requirements. Following the governor’s signature in June, the new “safe patient limits” law’s mandates were effective on October 1. AFT Connecticut Vice President John Brady, RN (at podium in photo, above), shared the story of this “game changer for recruitment and retention” among nurses and health professionals in a recently published commentary:

In Connecticut, we’ve been fighting for safer healthcare workplaces for decades. We’ve had some successes, but AFT Connecticut members continue to face working conditions that threaten their safety and the safety of their patients.

The staffing legislation we’ve had in place in the state since 2009—which was updated in 2015—was insufficient to address the problem. It called for staffing committees and a collaborative process to develop staffing plans, but it didn’t require those committees to approve the plan. Management showed a plan to the committees and claimed collaboration. And some of our hospitals were still mandating overtime despite Connecticut’s law against it, using a loophole to require nurses to work past their assigned shifts.

As consolidation has increased in our state, staffing shortages that were already dire have only gotten worse.

Click here for a local union leader’s published commentary on the crisis from earlier this year.

We needed to create real change in our members’ workplace conditions, so we established six goals for our multiyear Code Red campaign:

Pass legislation on staffing and mandatory overtime; Fight for staffing and safety concerns through collective bargaining agreements; Build internal organizing power and structures for member and community engagement; Increase AFT Connecticut’s impact as a leader on Connecticut healthcare issues; Be the union that nonunionized healthcare workers look to when they’re ready to fight for change; & Continue our work with other unions and affiliates across the country.

We began with our legislative goal: statewide staffing ratios and strengthened protection against mandatory overtime. We wrote a bill using the federal Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act as a template, then proposed it to the chairs of the public health committee in our state legislature.

Forty AFT Connecticut members testified at the public hearing on the bill, and many others submitted written testimony.

Click here to watch highlights of healthcare union members’ testimony.

After some pushback on the ratios, the bill died in the judicial committee. But, in a major victory, an adjusted version was passed after it was added to the budget implementer bill.

Getting the staffing bill into the budget implementer bill took bipartisan support. A group that included our lobbyists, one of our field reps, and the Connecticut Nurses Association met with Republican and Democratic leaders of the public health committee, a few state agencies and the governor’s office. We discussed the problems some committee members had with the bill and hammered out a version that both houses of the legislature agreed on.

Click here for press reporting on passage of the final legislation.

One of our Republican state senators helped strengthen the legislation in a big way. To replace the ratios, we proposed staffing committees in which half of the members were bedside nurses. Foreseeing potential ties between staff and management, this senator insisted that the number of bedside nurses be 50 percent plus one.

So what passed in the end is a game changer for recruitment and retention. Now, the law effectively addresses mandatory overtime, the majority vote on our staffing committees will always belong to bedside nurses, and staffing committees will approve any staffing plans. In union hospitals, the union picks the nurses on the committee, so if we do this right, we should be able to write our hospitals’ staffing plans, including the ratios, which will be enforced by the Department of Public Health with fines.

Click here for a document highlighting the new law’s major provisions.

In time, others will see the power of that union difference. It’s going to take a lot of work to make sure that this legislation and our staffing committees are effective. Over the next months, we’ll be educating our members about the new bill and training new staffing committee members. Those chosen to be on staffing committees are going to be very important; they need to know how to be strong (so they don’t get pushed over by management) and how to vote as a caucus.

Click here to watch the latest training session on effective implementation of the new law.

We achieved our legislative goal much faster than expected, and the internal and external organizing and coalition building we’ve engaged in over the last decade were the foundation for this victory. Currently, 24 of our 36 state senators are Democrats; of those, 9 are union members and 2 are AFT members, including our state federation president, Jan Hochadel. That’s the result of years of door knocking, getting people out to vote, encouraging participation in member organizing institutes, and other strategies. All of these efforts compound over time.

We’ve made great progress on all of our campaign goals. And we’ll keep reevaluating and collaborating with our local leaders and affiliates to make sure we’re all going in the right direction, sharing resources and lessons learned so that our successes build off each other. We have high hopes that through our examples, hospitals nationwide will be compelled to do right by their workforces.

Click here for Brady’s original commentary published in AFT Health Care.

The post Achieving Landmark Workplace Safety Legislation first appeared on AFT Connecticut.