Working Together to Protect Retirement Security

Despite their significant efforts over the past decade to stabilize Connecticut's State Employee Retirement System (SERS), union leaders are not resting on their laurels when it comes to protecting pensions. They are also not relying on any assumptions when it comes to mutual agreements on the need to address liabilities with the state's Teacher Retirement System (TRS).
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"Sitting down with labor is consistent with the governor's pledges throughout the campaign and his commitments during the transition," said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel (right in photo, above, meeting last summer with the then-candidate). "For us, these meetings are not a pretext for negotiating more concessions or a forum for threatening unilateral changes to benefits. They're an opportunity to work together on solutions that benefit all of us," added Hochadel, who previously taught in the state’s technical high school system.
 
Hochadel, who was appointed in mid November to the governor’s transition committee, participated in the January 15 meeting, along with elected leaders from several unions representing public employees. They included the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), CSEA/SEIU, Local 2011, Council 4 AFSCME, the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199/SEIU, in addition to the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
 
Click here for press reporting on the January 15 meeting.
 
State employees' current and future retirement security face ongoing threats, even after an election last fall where a majority of legislative candidates sharing Lamont’s pro-working families agenda prevailed.
 
“We formed our own union in large part to defend vital benefits," said Emily Melendez, an assistant attorney general in the Office of the Attorney General’s Health & Education unit. "We needed a seat at the table for more than just negotiating them into our first contract. We also needed to be heard on how best to assure their future viability," added Melendez, the president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Connecticut Association of Assistant Attorneys General (AAGs).
 
Melendez’ comments refer to the organizing drive in 2016 in which she, alongside with a dedicated group of colleagues, pursued. The effort has since inspired several groups to form new or join existing state employee unions.
 
At the same time, greater vigilance in defending pensions has become necessary to defend against escalating political attacks by reactionary special interests and the politicians beholden to them.
 
Click here for our previous report on the wider attempt to gut state employees' retirement security.
 
Educators in Connecticut’s public schools have in recent years faced a similar and growing assault. They do not share the same statutory rights as union members employed by the state to collectively bargain pension funding, resulting in even greater vulnerability.
 
“A lot has changed since the unfair 'teacher tax' politicians imposed two years ago," said Mary Yordon, a certified French and social studies teacher in Norwalk. “Partnering with a new governor and a stronger majority of legislators who support working families are opportunities we should not let pass us by. We should be promoting better stewardship of resources to build a Connecticut that is a good place to live and work," added Yordon, our Norwalk Federation of Teachers' union president.
 
Yordon's comments refer to an occupational tax in a compromise budget package in 2017 that unilaterally imposed a hike on certified educators’ annual contributions while reducing state officials' payments. Lawmakers on the legislature's powerful finance committee last year recommended repealing the measure, but it was not called for a full vote before the General Assembly adjourned in May. Legislators additionally punted on long-term fixes to address the continued poor health of the TRS.
 
Click here for press reporting last spring on efforts to repeal the 'teacher tax.'
 
The unfunded liability of both the SERS and TRS are due to decades of willful neglect and reckless management by leaders of both major political parties. Together they pose an existential threat to the retirement security of current and future union members.
 
What all working families need is for the new governor and lawmakers to take a more balanced approach to budgeting than the failed policies of the past three years. That requires asking everyone to pay their fair share, not just Connecticut’s public sector union members.
 
Click here to sign our state employees union coalition’s petition urging investment, not austerity, so we all "thrive together."