Workers Demand Action To Reverse Agency Staffing Shortages

Oct. 5, 2021—Front-line public service workers sounded the alarm on how unsafe staffing levels that were already present prior to COVID-19 have since been aggravated by the Lamont Administration’s implementation of vaccine and testing mandates.

Speaking at press conference organized by the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), of which Council 4 is a member, union members emphasized they are complying with Executive Orders 13-G and 13-F. But the chaos surrounding compliance has further strained public health and safety services already stretched to the breaking point by staff shortfalls.

“The Lamont Administration had countless opportunities to sit down with coalition leaders to create a [compliance] plan that would not only keep staff and the public safe but would avoid any further harm or stress,” said Carl Chisem, President of CEUI Local 511.

He added, “We have demanded for years to have safe staffing levels, and to fill the countless vacancies across all agencies.”

Sherine Bailey of AFSCME Local 391, a correction officer at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield and union steward, emphasized that she and her coworkers are compliant with the EO but are impacted by severe staff shortages across the state prison system.

“We are getting vaccinated or tested,” said Bailey, who opted to get the vaccine. “We understand the importance of complying with the Executive Order. What we don’t understand is why Connecticut’s prisons are dangerously understaffed.”

There is currently a shortfall of 400 corrections staff throughout the state, with another 400  expected to retire in 2022. What’s happening in the Department of Correction is happening across the state. State agencies are understaffed and bracing for bigger problems when the 2022 retirement wave hits.

  • Click here for the Office of Legislative Research (OLR) report on the state agency staffing crisis.
  • Click here to read the Pew Charitable Trusts report showing a 7.6% decline in non-education public sector jobs in Connecticut between 2019-2021.

“We were way understaffed before the vaccine mandate came into effect,” Bailey pointed out. “Many of us are working16 hours a day, multiple times a week, with no support and no relief in sight. This is not sustainable. It impacts our health and safety, and it also impacts the health and safety of offenders.”

Joining Bailey at the press conference were current and former nurses at John Dempsey Hospital, and a nursing clinical instructor and an addiction counselor at Connecticut Valley Hospital.

Trung Le, a registered nurse and former employee of UConn Health Center in Farmington, said unsafe staffing levels, highlighted by 16-hour work days and minimal rest, caused him to take a job in the private sector.

“This is affecting patient care and patient safety,” Le said.

SEBAC leadership has sought from the start make sure state employee union members are treated fairly and their rights respected while minimizing disruption to services.

SEBAC and the State have made significant progress in negotiating the impact of EO-13G and EO-13F, resulting in a new formal agreement that covers many of the issues left unresolved in earlier discussions. As of Oct. 8, only 2.2% of state employees were non-compliant with the Governor’s executive orders.

Click here for SEBAC’s Oct. 8 Update on COVID Vaccine and Testing.

At the same time, SEBAC unions will continue to press an administration that has been reluctant to acknowledge or address the crisis in public services caused by large-scale attrition.