The Connecticut Senate on Friday gave final legislative approval to a multiyear labor agreement that includes pay raises and bonuses for tens of thousands of state employees, despite concerns raised by some Republicans that taxpayers can’t afford it.
The four-year deal, reached by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and recently ratified by 43,000 unionized workers, cleared the Democratic controlled Senate on a vote of 22-13. The Democratic controlled House of Representatives approved the same agreement on Thursday.
As in the House, debate in the Senate focused on whether the wage enhancements will help stabilize a predicted tsunami of retirements while rewarding a workforce that endured the pandemic, or create future fiscal challenges for the state.
Passage of the major labor deal comes as Lamont and the General Assembly are trying to reach an agreement in the final weeks of the legislative session on revisions to the state budget. Meanwhile, as new revenue projections show the state is now poised to end the current fiscal year on June 30 with a nearly $4 billion surplus, state lawmakers are limited by caps on spending and revenues.
Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, questioned how the price of the labor deal - which Republicans predict will cost roughly $1.9 billion over four years - can fit under the spending cap, in addition to other spending some Democrats want to make. For example, there continues to be a push by some lawmakers to spend more than $700 million on pandemic payments to both public and private workers who were designated as essential.
The four-year labor deal approved Friday includes 2.5% general wage increases and step increases retroactive to July 1, 2021. The workers will also receive additional 2.5% general wage increases and step increases beginning July 1 and July 1, 2023. State and union officials are expected to meet again in the fourth year to negotiate wages.
The agreement also includes special lump sum payments of $2,500 for active employees who’ve been on the job since March 31 and $1,000 for those employed as of July 15, 2022. There’s a pro-rated bonus for part-time employees. Some Republicans in the House raised concerns about the bonuses, noting how state workers could still retire even after receiving the bonuses.
Proponents of the deal, however, contend the bonuses will likely save the state more money in the long run. They predict an arbitrator would have probably awarded state employees 3% raises, which would be imbedded in their salaries.
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