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Winning Long-Overdue Respect for State Employees

The office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy on March 21 announced the change as yet another spring snowstorm was bearing down on Connecticut. His directive modified the terminology that differentiated executive branch state employees required to report to work from those ordered to stay off the state’s roadways during weather-related emergencies.
 
Under the new designation, employees previously referred to as “essential” are now considered “Level 1.” Those deemed “nonessential” in the past will going forward be referred to as “Level 2″ employees.
 
Click here for the signed executive order.
 
“Our members have long called for an end to this kind of divisive rhetoric,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel, who previously taught in the state’s technical high schools. Referring to the previous terminology, she added that it “all too often distorted the real record of the hard-working women and men in Connecticut state service.” 
 
“At a time when wealthy special interests are busy sowing discord, the governor’s order to drop misguided and outdated terminology is a step in the right direction,” Hochadel said.
 
Calls for change amplified over the past year, culminating in resolutions passed by delegates to both our state federation and the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s annual conventions in 2017.
“The term ‘nonessential’ comes with it other words like, ‘expendable,’ ‘unnecessary,’ and ‘unimportant,'” Chris DeFrancesco (above), a veteran communications specialist at UConn Health, last October said at the AFL-CIO’s gathering. Urging fellow delegates support his resolution demanding the phrase “nonessential state employees” be discontinued, he said, “we have to remind people that the work we do is important.”
 
“Public employees are under attack — and we can show leadership on this front,” added DeFrancesco, who also serves as a vice president in our affiliated University Health Professionals (UHP) union.
 
Click here for the resolution DeFrancesco introduced.
 
Before the more than 200 delegates voted to adopt the proposal, several rose to speak in favor of its passage. 
 
“I stand in support of this resolution because the words we use shape our attitudes,” said Ian Hollis, a media technician at the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs. “Calling so many of us, ‘nonessential,’ has felt like an attack. I can tell you that everyone who helps keep our university running is essential,” added Hollis, a vice president in our affiliated UConn Professional Employees Association (UCPEA).
 
The president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO earlier this year reached out directly to the governor, sharing the resolution and pressing for change. In a January 5 letter, Lori Pelletier challenged terminology that she said “only serves to feed negative stereotypes and demean [state employees’] important work.”
 
Click here for press reporting on the governor’s executive order.
 
This seemingly small change will provide a more accurate representation of educated public employees — and at no cost to the residents who depend on the services they deliver. The fact that the directive follows the concerted efforts of union leaders speaks volumes about our collective commitment to have each other’s backs at this crossroads for our labor movement.
 
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