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Tapping the Collective “Potential to Revolutionize Our Work”

Members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated public employee unions joined their colleagues from across the country last month to brainstorm solutions to shared challenges. They came together in Baltimore to tackle issues impacting their workplaces and communities ranging from staffing shortages to artificial intelligence (AI). Guided by the theme of the professional issues conference (PIC) for their division, activists collectively set their “Focus on the Future: Rebuilding our Communities with a Strong Public Service.”

A national crisis, fueled by nearly a million unfilled vacancies in the sector, drove constructive conversations aimed at staffing the front lines of government agencies at all levels. Earlier this year, our national union convened a task force that includes AFT Connecticut Secretary-Treasurer Shawn Brown. The leaders were charged with developing strategies to reverse these shortages.

Click here for national reporting on the crisis and labor-led efforts to address it.

Many of the conference’s workshops and panel discussions drilled down on recommendations from the task force’s forthcoming report:

  • Negotiate a 35-hour workweek to help both recruit and retain workers;
  • Evaluate public jobs for hybrid telework options whenever possible;
  • Reduce the pay gap between public and private professionals;
  • Create benefit options across the life cycle;
  • Extend mental health support systems beyond short-term perks;
  • Strengthen defined-benefit pensions to make them equitable and robust;
  • Build a pipeline of workers through apprenticeships, internships, “service year” programs and “second chance” job opportunities;
  • Invest in human resources professionals;
  • Shorten the timeline for hiring staff; &
  • Update all job descriptions regularly.

Click here for our national union’s previous update on the task force’s formation.

Brown’s colleagues in our affiliated University Health Professionals (in photo, above) brought their firsthand experience confronting the impacts of short-staffing at UConn Health, Connecticut’s only public academic medical center. They also shared examples of concrete solutions, including collaboration with their employer at a recent job fair organized by fellow state employee union members.

Click here to watch highlights from the “Staff the Front Lines” event in Hartford.

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel teamed up with our AFT Public Employees division’s program and policy council chair to lead a workshop on digital technology and AI. They provided an overview of the ways these challenges are presenting themselves to government workforces, as well as legislative and collective bargaining strategies for addressing them.

“AI has the potential to revolutionize our work; to make it easier, faster, more accurate,” she told workshop attendees. “Our greatest challenges are the lack of transparency in understanding what’s happening in public services with this technology – and the lack of accountability when things go wrong.”

Hochadel shared her experience participating in a three-year Digital Rights Organizer training provided by Public Services International (PSI), where she co-chairs the inter-American regional executive committee. The global labor federation is helping to empower union members and hold public authorities accountable for how – and why – they introduce disruptive technologies.

Click here for PSI’s Digital Rights Organizer training material.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by words and concepts we may not understand right now,” Hochadel added. “This is the future of our work and our union representation,” she added.

Editor’s note: includes contributions from Annette Licitra, AFT.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connorhttp://aftct.org
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.
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