Workers Deserve Better – Here’s What Better Looks Like

            I read a column in a competing newspaper last week regarding the luck that Governor Ned Lamont had in his first term. According to the columnist, it was that luck that propelled the governor to reelection and a second term. But the columnist wrote that the luck is unlikely to follow the governor in his second term.  

            Part of the writer’s thesis is that Lamont will be entering labor negotiations with state workers’ unions in 2027. He argued that “labor always wants more,” and this does not bode well for the governor. Certainly workers always want more.

We want more pay, better benefits, and more dignity. We want security when our bodies and our minds no longer allow us to work with the vigor we once had. We also want more control of how we work, more certainty in our work schedules, and friendly leave policies that allow us to care for our loved ones while also producing for our bosses.

According to the writer, Governor Lamont is afflicted with a state workforce that is heading for the exits due to healthy retirement packages. 7,000 employees retired in 2022 alone. In order to fill gaps, the state brought back 800 of those employees. That is a net loss of 6,200 employees in the workforce. From my perspective, that seems pretty good. 6,200 fewer paychecks going out. 6,200 fewer benefit and retirement packages. Seems like a boon to taxpayers.

But the writer worries that the Governor won’t be able to negotiate a new benefits package in line with state norms. The fact is that when negotiating contracts – something I know about – benefits packages will incrementally decline over time from the baseline, and costs will incrementally rise based on factors outside of the control of the negotiating parties. But there are no give-aways in negotiations.

If the governor wants to really shake things up though, I have a few ideas. First, for lots of state workers, a state job should be viewed as a foot in a door to a career that can lead to better pay and benefits in the private sector. Employees should be encouraged to leave after 3, 5, and 10 years for greener pastures where they can build on what they have learned in state work and advance the economy in the private sector.

You can do that in a few ways. First, take off the handcuffs of a 25-year pension. The fact is that many folks confine themselves to a lifeless job based on the promise of retirement security, rather than going out and living their lives. It is a myth that a person cannot save for retirement. 401-k’s with employer matches are an efficient way of ensuring retirement security while also allowing career advancement.

Second, the state should experiment with work-from-home systems that allow employees to moonlight and build upon their entrepreneurial passions. Allowing remote work and limited schedules like 3- or 4-day workweeks will allow workers to explore other interests and be able to move on to private sector entrepreneurial opportunities. This will free up new job opportunities and turnover in the workforce allowing wages to stay at lower steps and forcing innovation from within.

Covid showed us that work is different now and workers want more than just pay and benefits. We want opportunity. The governor can innovate in this area and turn on Connecticut’s economic engine in the process.

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