It's been dubbed the "Silver Tsunami," the tidal wave of state employees eligible to retire in the next few years, and it could cripple state services if all of them decided it was the right time to call it quits.
After years of negotiations, 35 state employee bargaining unions came to an agreement with the Lamont administration on wages and benefits that will keep them on the job.
NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Drew Stoner with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, also known as SEBAC, about the contacts.
Mike Hydeck: "So the state comptroller's office calls this package for 43,000 workers historic. What are union members saying?"
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Drew Stoner: "Union members are excited about this. For years, they have been sacrificing. Over the last 12 years, they've had six years of wage freezes. They've given up hundreds of millions of dollars [$1.6 billion] for pension and health care sacrifices. You know, they've fought hard over these last few years. They've been working without a contract for the last year. They're deserving of this. It's fair and honorable and they're excited."
Mike Hydeck: "So $3,500 in direct payments, and then 2.5% increase for the next three years. Right now, the comptroller's office is estimating about 3,500 people are going to retire this year. Will this deal keep any of them on the job, do you think?"
Drew Stoner: "I think so, you know, they're excited about this, but right now we're facing vacancies across the agencies. You know, we have DSS with over 300 vacancies, DOC with over 600, DMHAS with over 800. You know, we need something now to retain and recruit a talented, diverse workforce that can provide the vital services that our state relies on."
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Mike Hydeck: "So for decades, as long as I can remember, state lawmakers have been trying to refinance or deal with our unfunded long-term pension debt, which is why these concessions were asked year in and year out, and they have to weigh in on the deal. What are the chances, do you think, this gets past legislators? Is the agreement ironclad, do you think?"
Drew Stoner: "We hope so, you know, we hope that the legislature understands that this contract isn't just good for the 43,000 families supported by it, but also all of Connecticut's residents. You know, every constituent in their district relies on some sort of public service, whether they're driving over the bridges and highways, whether they're in the DMV line, whether they're using DMHAS services, or they go to UConn Health or they attend any one of the state universities or community colleges. We all rely on Connecticut's public services and we need these contracts."
Mike Hydeck: "Now that this contract looks like it could be a done deal, obviously, the legislature has to weigh in. Moving forward, what can you do, what can the state do, what can we all do to fill some of these vacancies? The recruiting efforts have to be stepped up. Can a deal like this actually work when it comes to recruiting new staff members?"
Drew Stoner: "It certainly can. And SEBAC also has a legislative agenda that's aimed at addressing some of the recruitment needs. We have a bill for automatic refills. So every time there's a vacancy that we're automatically refilling that, you know, we estimate that cost is $0 to taxpayers, because those positions are already budgeted for. We're also calling for continuous recruitment around the year at all of these positions to make sure that when a vacancy occurs, we're filling it immediately with someone who's ready to do the job."