Kim Lachut (right) was among hundreds of state workers who waited hours on February 21 to testify in front of the legislature’s joint committee on Labor and Public Employees. The University of Connecticut (UConn) School of Business program coordinator spoke powerfully against House Bill (HB) 5552, “An Act Excluding Retirement Benefits from Collective Bargaining by State and Municipal Employees.”
“This bill would ultimately silence us — and encourage future hires to look elsewhere for employment,” said Lachut, who provides vital student support at the nationally recognized graduate school. “We do our jobs, not because of the money we make, but because we truly believe what we do makes a difference for those we serve,” added Lachut, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated UConn Professional Employees Association (UCPEA).
Bill Garrity (left), a registered nurse in the emergency department at UConn Health’s John Dempsey Hospital, told the committee that HB 5552 was “not a way to manage or to govern.” In his testimony he laid bare the real purpose of the proposal, saying “this bill is designed to do one thing; divide and conquer.”
Garrity shared how taking a pay cut when leaving his private sector job for a career in public service was an exchange for union-negotiated and protected retirement security. “This is a promise that was made; it is a contractual right,” added Garrity, the president of our University Health Professionals (UHP) union.
Lachut and Garrity were joined at the hearing by Nicole Waicunas (right), a UConn colleague and UCPEA union member who echoed concerns over the bill’s negative affects on workforce retention. She shared with the committee her husband’s private sector experience to argue forcefully against legislators’ misguided attacks on retirement security.
“When new employees are hired, they quickly discover the lack of support and benefits, resulting in high turnover,” Waicunas told lawmakers. The enrichment outreach coordinator at UConn’s Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development warned that higher employee healthcare costs or pension losses risk similar outcomes in her workplace.
“This bill will erode the strength, community and trust of the staff who so tirelessly work for the University of Connecticut,” said Waicunas.
HB 5552 was just one proposal seeking to undermine collective bargaining rights, gut pension and healthcare benefits and lower community wage standards on the committee’s agenda that day. AFT Connecticut Secretary-Treasurer Ed Leavy (left) also testified in opposition to HB 6457, “An Act Limiting Wage Increases in Arbitration Awards,” a bill threatening to “stifle actual negotiations.”
As Leavy pointed out, the proposal would undo the contract dispute resolution process that has fostered labor-management relations in Connecticut’s public sector for decades, leaving it “distorted beyond recognition.” The veteran English teacher at Bullard-Havens Technical High School denounced its proponents for showing “they have no interest in collaborating with working people to find solutions.”
Leavy, who also serves as our State Vocational Federation of Teachers president, summed up anti-union lawmakers’ intent, saying they “seek to limit the voice and rights of working people.”
Our members’ comments were echoed by scores of state and municipal employees who spoke that afternoon — teachers and classroom paraeducators, fire fighters and local first responders, nurses and bedside caregivers. All challenged Republican lawmakers’ false claims that gutting collective bargaining rights would yield budgetary savings. They effectively made the case that a strong voice for working people — not just union members — is essential to creating economic stability and fostering an upwardly mobile middle class.
Among additional opportunities for members to make their voices heard is another public hearing on several bills threatening to roll-back collective bargaining rights. The legislature’s budget-writing committee on March 24 is expected to take testimony on dozens of anti-union proposals — and a strong turn-out will be critical to defeat them.
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