AFT Connecticut received the $25,000 prize during a national AFT ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Prize for Solution-Driven Unionism was created in partnership with the Albert Shanker Institute and the AFT Innovation Fund. AFT Connecticut was chosen from among applications submitted by AFT affiliates during the summer, and it is sharing top prize honors with the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of public schools that has found success by emphasizing in-depth teaching over high-stakes testing.
With Connecticut facing growing budget deficits, in 2011 Gov. Dan Malloy turned to state employees and demanded they come up with $2 billion in savings or face massive layoffs. In response, AFT Connecticut worked closely with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) to create the Health Enhancement Program, an ambitious and innovative plan that addressed the budget shortfall while expanding access to high-quality and affordable healthcare for its workers.
“The Solution-Driven Unionism Prize is rooted in solving problems, and AFT Connecticut helped solve one of the biggest facing the state. They found a way to save jobs, benefits and services while helping dig the state out of a $2 billion budget hole,” Weingarten said. “It wasn’t easy, but there was a better way and they worked collaboratively to put it into place.”
The Health Enhancement Program focuses on preventive care and chronic disease management. It includes incentives ($100 yearly) for enrollment and compliance in the program, and a $100 monthly increase in premiums for those who do not enroll. By May 2012, 99 percent of state employees had signed up to participate in the plan, leading to better-managed risk, lower costs for consumers and savings for the long term.
The health program has led to increased cholesterol screenings and colonoscopies for those over 50, as well as reduced emergency room visits. The percentage of workers taking their medications as scheduled has also increased.
“It was contentious and quite difficult,” said Jean Morningstar, a vice president of AFT Connecticut who recently retired after serving 27 years at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. “But we were determined to make it work. This was ultimately about protecting our members and our ability to continue to provide high-quality public services.”
The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators. Follow AFT President Randi Weingarten on Twitter at @rweingarten.
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