SEBAC Agreement Is a Great Deal for State Employee Unions but a Bad Deal for Taxpayers

July 31, 2017

Much has been made about the $1.5 billion in reported savings achieved by the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) concession agreement brokered by the Governor’s office.  Some legislative leaders are even claiming that failure by the Senate to approve the agreement will lead to costly litigation between the state and the unions.

After reviewing the overall summary of SEBAC agreement, and receiving information about the revisions to the individual union contracts representing over 30 individual bargaining units, I cannot in good conscience vote in favor of this deal. I don’t believe this is a “deal” for Connecticut taxpayers, and it puts the state in a risky position when developing future budgets.

The contract asks state employees for 1 percent incremental increases in contributions toward health care, but caps those contributions at 16 percent. This is problematic if health care costs increase, as they historically have, because you, the taxpayer, will be the one responsible for paying those increased costs.

In exchange for the minimal health care contribution increase, a minimal increase in employee contributions to the pension fund, and a two-year wage freeze, the contract stipulates no layoff of union employees for any reason prior to June 30, 2021. It also guarantees pay increases beginning in the third year of the contract and gives 50,254 employees a one-time payment in fiscal year 2019 of $2,000.

Additionally, the agreement:

  • Increases the number of hours certain employees can conduct union activities on state time (at state expense)
  • Removes current legislative authority over pension and healthcare issues
  • Prevents the ability of the state to privatize services
  • Continues to include overtime when calculating employee pension payments
  • Makes potentially costly changes to sick time and time off
  • Requires the state to pay for employees’ Commercial Driver’s License Medical Examinations
  • Continues employee longevity payments
  • Requires non-union employees to pay higher health insurance premiums than union employees

These are only a few of the benefits included in the union “concession” package that actually will cost the state more money in the long run. Additionally, the “reduced” state employee union benefits continue to far exceed the benefits municipal union employees and private sector employees in Connecticut receive.

The agreement also ties the legislature’s and taxpayers’ hands by preventing privatization efforts or the ability to save money by consolidating services or departments, instead requiring the state to retain union employees. It also guarantees their pay raises, even if we enter another recession. In that case, the state will have no recourse but to raise taxes and/or send more financial burdens to municipalities while also cutting services for the elderly, the disabled, and vulnerable state residents. Therefore, passing this deal will push our state towards tax increases and/or deep social service cuts.

But there is another option. Senate Republicans have proposed a budget that includes more labor savings that can be achieved legislatively and would not tie the hands of future lawmakers by extending contracts for another 10 years. While those who support the governor’s deal have tried to argue that the Senate Republican proposal could face litigation, an opinion issued by state Attorney General George Jepsen makes it clear that the Senate Republican proposal would not be subject to any court challenge because it does not make changes to existing union contracts. In addition, the Attorney General’s opinion even goes further than our proposal, stating that in cases of “fiscal emergency” the legislature could also argue for the need to change existing contracts. But I want to be clear, the Senate Republican proposal does not even go that far. Rather it makes realistic, achievable changes to put state employee benefits more in line with what other union employees outside of state government – such as teachers, police and firefighters – receive today. This will result in more savings and create the stability our state, its taxpayers and its employees deserve.

Senate Republicans have proposed a balanced budget that does not include new taxes and does not seek to change existing state employee union contracts. Better still, it does not extend these contracts until 2027, meaning that our state will have the flexibility it needs to work towards avoiding future tax increase and cuts to services for the most vulnerable.

While some people are touting the deal between state employee unions and the Governor as a great deal for the state, state employees certainly recognized that it is a great deal for them because they overwhelmingly voted to approve it.

However, this is not a good deal. I believe Connecticut taxpayers deserve better. We cannot sign away the legislature’s ability to take reasonable measures to balance state budgets for the next ten years. We need to be able to make changes in our budgets that benefit all Connecticut people and not just a select few.  By voting no on these contracts, the legislature can give business and residents a reason to believe we are serious about getting Connecticut’s fiscal house in order.

State Senator Henri Martin represents the 31st District, which includes the communities of Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth, and Thomaston