She is laid off as 1% grows richer

The Day
Op-Ed/Guest Opinions
May 8, 2015

Last year, I left my job in the private sector, where I earned a decent paycheck with benefits, to become a state correctional officer. I went through the Department of Correction’s rigorous training academy and began my employment at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville in February.

I come from a hard-working family including my dad, who was a custodian in the Ledyard school system until his passing in April, and my mom, also a state correctional officer. Having the opportunity to protect and serve the community where I grew up seemed like a dream job.

That dream is a nightmare now. On April 21, I received a letter that stated, “Due to severe fiscal circumstances, budget cuts have become necessary…Your position as a Correction Officer is being eliminated.” Instantaneously, I became a casualty – one of nearly 800 state workers who have lost their jobs.

If the governor gets his way, and achieves his vision of a “new economic reality,” thousands more state employees will join me in the ranks of the unemployed, and vital public services such as criminal justice and law enforcement will deteriorate beyond repair.

I’m not asking for sympathy but I am wondering why it came to this. How can the richest state in the country fire middle-class public servants when there are clearly better and smarter choices to make?

Layoffs of public service workers add expenses to state government, rather than savings. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo recently pointed out that each state employee layoff will result in another 1.5 persons losing their jobs due to decreased economic activity. You certainly don’t need to be a professional economist to know that layoffs also result indecreased collection of state taxes and an increase in state unemployment insurance costs.

I worry about my brothers and sisters still working behind the razor wire. They’re going to be forced to work double shifts, exposed to greater dangers with fewer staff to respond. That’s what happens when you recklessly terminate front line prison workers and other public safety employees, not to mention treatment, rehabilitation and re-employment programs that keep people from slipping permanently into the margins.

Why is the governor unwilling to raise taxes for the wealthy and biggest employers? Companies like Wal-Mart and Dunkin Donuts pay their employees so poorly that many of them rely on state services, paid for by state taxpayers. If we required that these big employers pay a fee to compensate for what the state pays out each year to low-wage workers forced to access public assistance, we could go a long way toward reducing current and future deficits.

But such an approach runs smack into the governor’s new economic reality, where hedge fund managers, whose only goal to is to produce more wealth for the richest 1 percent of Americans, and CEOs of publicly traded companies based in our state, who earn 341 times more than the average Connecticut worker, will not be asked to sacrifice at all. Instead, the working and middle class will continue to lose ground. How is that fair?

These reckless layoffs do us all a disservice. Working in a correctional facility is often dangerous and violent. The media, entertainment industry and politicians love to stereotype prison employees. They conveniently ignore the fact that we are trying to work toward an economic reality where inmates, upon their release, can succeed in society so that we may never see them again.

I became a correctional officer to make a difference. Instead, I’ve become a statistic – an unemployed worker whose family will be worse off while the communities around me become more dangerous and less lawful.

Angela Valero worked as a Correctional Officer for the State Department of Correction.