Member Participation Fuels 2021 Legislative Successes

The cloud of COVID-19 hung heavily over the 2021 legislative session, both literally and figuratively, by the time the Connecticut General Assembly adjourned on June 9.

Despite the State Capitol remaining closed to lobbyists and members of the public, due to COVID-19, this year’s session brought several noteworthy successes that will benefit Council 4 members and working people across the state.

These victories include legislation protecting public sector unions and their members in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision; providing workers’ compensation benefits for treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury for dispatchers, EMS workers, and Department of Correction employees (and healthcare workers experiencing trauma related to COVID-19); preventing gender wage discrimination; and shoring up the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

Here is a more detailed look at the work done by Council 4 lobbyists Brian Anderson and Zak Leavy, along with a multitude of Council 4 members who reached out to legislators, either by testifying at public hearings on zoom or through email, calls and letters:

SB 908, An Act Concerning Access to Certain Public Employees by the Exclusive Bargaining Representative of a Public Employer Bargaining Unit.

  • Codifies certain rights between member and the bargaining unit including access to orientation, dues authorization, and prohibits public employers from encouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members.

SB 660, An Act Expanding Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Certain Mental or Emotional Impairments Suffered by Health Care Providers in Connection with Covid-19.

  • Expands PTSI coverage to Department of Corrections Employees, EMS Workers and Dispatchers.

HB 6344, An Act Establishing the Office of the Unemployed Workers’ Advocate.

  • Creates a position within the Department of Labor to help the public navigate the unemployment system. (This did not pass as a bill but was part of the budget implementer.)

HB 6621, An Act Concerning Assorted Revisions and Additions to the Education Statutes.

  • Requires the Paraeducator Advisory Council to study and make recommendations concerning the working conditions and professional development of paraeducators.

Our union also worked hard to stop four bills from passing out of committee that would have taken overtime out of pension calculations.

We stopped other bad ideas, too. For example we successfully advocated for the removal of language in HB 6667 that would have negatively impacted working conditions for Corrections Officers and other members who work in public safety.

Another significant accomplishment was the expansion of workers’ compensation benefits for workers impacted by the coronavirus. Budget implementer language sets aside $34 million to fund the CT Essential Workers COVID-19 Fund, which will help compensate workers for lost wages and health care claims, and provide other benefits as well.

We also are pleased to report these outcomes as well:

  • Successfully lobbied legislators to approve state employee contracts and awards that if not passed would have set a bad precedent for coming state employee local contracts and awards
  • Stopped major privatization of DMV functions that would impact Council 4 members.
  • Worked for some increase in state revenue that will help in the overall effort to fund the pay and benefits of our municipal and state members.
  • Increased municipal PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to municipalities that will hopefully help protect our municipal members’ pay and benefits.
  • Stopped legislation that would curtail the ability of some of our members to make extra duty income.
  • Stopped legislation that would have allowed the possible subpoenas of sensitive member information.

There were of course disappointments. With Gov. Lamont taking a hard line against increasing taxes on the wealthiest citizens, the General Assembly ended up adopting a budget bill and bonding package that disappointed Council 4 and our Recovery for All Coalition.

The final budget bill does not add progressivity to the tax code and relies heavily ($2.332 billion) on one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to fund ongoing line items. Considering how well Connecticut’s millionaires and billionaires fared during the pandemic, the legislature and the governor missed an opportunity to raise significant revenue and ease the tax burden on Connecticut’s middle and lower classes.

The budget implementer also cut funding (and positions) for the Connecticut State Contracting Standards Board, which is supposed to be the watchdog against corrupt privatization and no-bid contracts. This attack on the CSCSB is an affront to Connecticut taxpayers who underwrite the cost of lucrative contracts with outside vendors that invariably fail. Our members can get the job done for better and cheaper. We will not relent in our push to insource state work.

It should be noted the General Assembly will reconvene in another special session later this summer to tackle unresolved issues, including the provision of pandemic “hero” or “hazard” pay to essential workers who put their lives and health on the line throughout COVID-19. Council 4 has been at the forefront of this fight, with so many of our members (whether state, municipal or private sector) having been required to work on-site and at great risk during COVID-19.

Finally, thanks to all the Council 4 members and allies who mobilized in support of our union’s agenda throughout the legislative session. Making sure that legislators hear our voices is critical to protecting our bargaining rights and the middle class.