HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)–Faced with mounting pressure to re-open their contracts or face thousands of layoffs, state employee unions are ramping up a campaign to get Connecticut residents and lawmakers on their side. With both Democrat and Republican leaders joining Gov. Dan Malloy in calling for the unions to open their contract and discuss give-backs on pensions and benefits, the unions are fighting back, attempting to put a human face on the work they do.
One of the unions is not only bankrolling TV ads; they made some of their members available Monday to address their concerns in this budget battle. While the video shows a series of state employees, a male announcer voice over says, “They provide crucial mental health services. They treat our veterans when they return home. They care for our most vulnerable citizens and they all work for the State of Connecticut.”
The “Service Employees International Union” that represents about 7,500 Connecticut state employees is firing the first volley in the effort to fight layoffs and service cuts with this TV commercial. Another union is planning a State Capitol rally for Tuesday, just as state lawmakers will be gathering to vote on the first round of spending cuts for the current budget year. Another big round will come sometime before May 4.
Eugene Morton has worked for nearly a dozen years for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services as a mental health assistant and says state employees are being blamed for something they did not create. “I think they are scapegoats. I don’t think the solution is laying off folks,” says Morton.
Jennifer Beck is a front line occupational therapist for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She say she knows the state is having severe cash flow problems and adds, “I don’t know that I have the answers but I feel that the cuts shouldn’t be to the young adults transitioning out of schools and to people in group homes that have no voice of their own.”
The Governor said Monday that he doesn’t blame the state employees, but they must be part of the solution adding, “The workforce is going to be reduced significantly this year and that could be a long term trend.” SEIU 1199 member Morton noted that, “When you lay off folks those folks become unemployed, they stop paying taxes, they depend on the state in a different manner.”
The State Senate has scheduled their budget cutting session to start Tuesday at 11 a.m. Public Safety union employees have scheduled a rally just outside for 10:30 Tuesday morning.