Gearing Up to Defeat a "Let Them Eat Cake" Approach

IB ImageLabor leaders in early February appeared before the commission at its final public meeting to make the case for tax fairness and pro-working family policies to boost the economy. Together, they refuted persistent myths perpetuated by anti-union special interests and put forward common sense proposals for combatting income inequality that appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Click here for our previous report-back following last month's presentation to the commission.
Instead, the commission prescribed the "low road" approach pushed by the state’s powerful corporate and municipal lobbies. The most egregious proposal would strip state employees' of their rights to negotiate retirement security and medical coverage after our current master contract covering pension and healthcare benefits expires.
Labor leaders who, just three weeks earlier made a convincing case for the commission to respect working people, responded sharply to the report’s failings.
"Rolling-back the freedom to negotiate our future is an affront to the rights of working people," said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. She added, "It also ignores decades of evidence. Union members have shown over and over that collective bargaining works to reduce costs and achieve greater sustainability while maintaining labor peace."
Hochadel's comments refer to the recent record of state employees saving taxpayers billions through agreements negotiated with the previous and current gubernatorial administrations. The latest, reached last summer, was found by an independent actuarial analysis to return nearly $2 billion to the state’s general operating fund during the current biennial budget cycle.
Click here for our report on union members' ratification of the 2017 agreement to secure their jobs and benefits.
"The recommendations were supposed to be about creating fiscal stability and strong economic growth,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier. She added, they are "nothing short of a full frontal attack on working people in the state." Calling the proposals "a gift to the state's ultra-wealthy," she pointed out they would "diminish the wages and benefits of Connecticut's workers," and not just those of union members.
Additional recommendations that fall short on addressing Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation inequality gap and would further erode middle and working class families' economic security include:
Weakening binding arbitration laws to further advantage municipal and school board employers;
  • Implementing unspecified "benefit reforms" and additional contribution rate changes to the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS);
  • Slashing $1 billion in funding for vital public services delivered by state employees;
  • Hiking prevailing wage thresholds on public construction and renovation projects to suppress earnings for workers in the building trades; 
  • Raising the sales tax from 6.35% to 7.25% to shift a greater share of the state budget’s revenue burden on working families; &
  • Repealing the estate and gift taxes to benefit the state's richest individuals.
Click here for press reporting on the release of the report.
While the commission’s recommendation to enact deep public service resource cuts lacked much specificity, the report does call for "a policy favoring privatization or outsourcing of state functions." The proposal stands in stark contrast to the record of costly contracting-out that over the past several decades has wasted billions in taxpayer dollars.
"While the 'let them eat cake' commission served up plenty of poorly thought-out proposals, this push for privatization is particularly perplexing,” said AFT Connecticut First Vice President Jean Morningstar. "It's as if these corporate elites want us to ignore how much working people already pay for outsourcing without adequate oversight. It's as much as $264 million every year," added Morningstar, who also serves on the State Contracting Standards Board (SCSB), which has recently analyzed the cost of privatization in Connecticut.
Click here for reporting on the SCSB's study on savings achieved through competitive bidding.
After the commission unanimously approved the report, the co-chairs urged the General Assembly take up the complete package and cautioned against breaking it up into separate policies. Describing it as a "grand bargain" that would only work if enacted in totality, they presented the report as an all-or-nothing proposal.
Four committees have already raised bills to serve as legislative vehicles for the commission's recommendations, raising the stakes for some, if not all, eventually becoming law. At the same time, multiple public hearings will provide the opportunity for union members, good government advocates and social justice activists to urge better choices.
Click here to sign-up to be part of efforts to defeat the commission's attacks on our freedoms.