One in six jobs in the CT government is vacant as more workers leave

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Connecticut governors and lawmakers have used job freezes to close the state’s budget deficits for more than a decade.

And even after state tax revenues began to flow, Governor Ned Lamont has frozen job vacancies faster than his predecessor – much to lawmakers’ dismay.

Now, with a sixth of most executive branch jobs vacant, retirements accelerating and the coronavirus pandemic still not over, unions and some lawmakers say a more concerted effort to hire must begin immediately.

“It is unsustainable for us to continue working 16-hour shifts in a job that is already known to be dangerous and involves a high rate of physical injury and mental distress,” said Sean Howard, President by Local 387 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing 800 correctional officers and other frontline workers at the Cheshire Correctional Complex.

According to the state Office of Policy and Management’s CT Mirror, all agencies of the executive branch — excluding public colleges and universities — have collectively filled 25,700 of the 30,080 positions allocated to them in the state budget.

The job vacancy rate of 17% is almost double what it was two years ago when 9.4% of jobs were vacant.

According to Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office, 3,848 employees – from all state governments – have either retired this calendar year or submitted written intentions to do so before stricter pension rules take effect on July 1. And that number is expected to continue rising over the next two months.

In a typical year, the state sees 2,000 to 2,500 retirements.

Staff across all prisons has fallen by more than 600, and that’s likely to increase before the fiscal year ends June 30, Howard said, adding that officers are facing mandatory overtime “to an exhausting and unhealthy degree.” . … We are putting our lives and health at risk during COVID. We need relief.”

Dozens of members of the state’s largest health care worker’s union personally delivered a letter to Lamont last week asking how hundreds of nursing positions could be left vacant amid a pandemic as more retirements loom — and the state looks set to enter the fiscal year will finish with a staggering $4 billion surplus, equivalent to 20% of the general fund.

The administration replied that they are doing everything they can to help.

Lamont and the legislature recently approved four-year contracts with most of the state’s unionized workers that include annual cost-of-living increases of 2.5%, incremental increases — an additional 2 or 2.5 percentage points to the wages of all but the oldest workers. and $3,500 in bonuses this spring and summer.

“Our nationwide HR team works diligently to fill positions with innovative technology, actively reaches out to organizations and individuals to ensure we have a representative workforce, and uses resources such as license data to recruit qualified applicants for these positions,” added Lamont spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson.

She added that the administration is also trying to be strategic about hiring.

“We are hiring more people in IT [information technology] than in the past, but potentially fewer people responsible for filing papers,” Anderson said. “We have said time and time again that while we know we need to hire to fill vacancies due to retirements, we also see this as an opportunity to ensure our government is functioning properly and that we are a good steward of the.” are taxpayers’ money.”

Did Lamont Freeze Jobs to Save Money?

But it’s not just the unions who are concerned.

Chairmen of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee have been urging Lamont to spend the money the legislature put in the budget since shortly after taking office in January 2019.

Lamont’s predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, had few options but to reduce the Executive Branch workforce by almost 10% between 2011 and 2018.

Often faced with large projected deficits and trying to avoid tax hikes and program cuts whenever possible, lawmakers often ordered Malloy to make large savings after the fiscal year had already started and the budget was in place.

For example, lawmakers asked Malloy to find an average of $871 million a year in savings in its first biennial budget, a massive goal driven largely by a major union concession deal.

But even between 2013 and 2016, when no new concession deals were made, the General Fund’s savings goals averaged $184 million per year.

That’s modest compared to the $54 million savings target You set this fiscal year for Lamont, who intends to save almost ten times that amount – $527 million.

This governor has aggressively exceeded austerity targets since taking office. And Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee, say lawmakers still don’t fully understand the government’s rationale.

“We bring it up all the time,” Osten told CT Mirror on Sunday. “They keep saying they’re hiring at a rate they just can’t keep up with. We don’t think so.”

The government defends itself by citing Connecticut’s robust short-term fiscal position.

“Governor Lamont and his budget team have restored a balanced budget and a healthy rainy day fund while providing effective support to those who need us most,” Anderson said.

But the unions counter that Lamont could have filled all the vacancies and that Connecticut still had billions in reserves. The biggest single driver of the budgetary situation is the massive increase in government revenue and trade tax revenue since 2018.

The workforce has shrunk during the pandemic

Some union supporters are also questioning whether Lamont is simply committing to a downsizing of government, regardless of the pandemic or the cuts imposed in the 2010s – although the governor publicly insists that the large bounty recently approved was meant to to encourage recruitment.

Republican lawmakers have already accused Lamont of handing out the bonuses now to ingratiate himself with state labor unions as he seeks re-election this fall. Workers can accept about 70% of the premiums and still retire before July 1st.

“That [raise and bonus] The deal was billed as a retention effort,” said Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, the running mate of Madison GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, as the House of Representatives approved the contracts last month. “It’s nothing more than a handout.”

But union leaders say the vacancy rate has become a crisis that goes beyond election-year politics.

In mid-2018, during Malloy’s last year, the executive branch vacancy rate was 13.9%. That means attitudes first improved under Lamont and then fell sharply not long after the pandemic began.

Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 NE, said the closure of an addiction treatment program in Connecticut Valley, the state’s psychiatric hospital, and a shortage of beds at other sites for children with behavioral health needs are just two examples of the excessive toll on job openings in the state take staff.

“We see this as an urgent issue of racial and economic justice,” Baril said, “both in the delivery of safety net services and the quality of care.”

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