As our state begins the process of reopening and works to ensure we are safe at home and at our worksites, another tragedy is again coming to the forefront in communities around our country. From Los Angeles to New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago, and in many other cities, demonstrations have been raging this week in response to the murder of George Floyd, another reminder of systemic racism that exists in our nation. I want to start by echoing the words of Mary Kay Henry, SEIU International President, who said in part:
“Over the past few years, we have seen heightened public awareness of the racism that people of color have always experienced. Awareness is not enough—it must lead to action. In Minneapolis, that means arresting and charging the officers responsible for the death of George Floyd.
It’s important to recognize that the officers in Minneapolis are not representative of the entire law enforcement community. SEIU members serve on the frontlines doing essential work, including many in law enforcement who keep people safe and uphold the public trust.
However, when that trust is broken, we must use our collective voices to call for change.
Unfortunately, justice cannot be served for Ahmaud [Arbery], Breonna [Taylor], and George. Justice would be having them alive and well with their family and friends. But we can choose to make this moment a turning point so that no one feels they can take another person’s life for granted.”
As we use our collective voices to call for reform, let’s not forget how the COVID-19 crisis has been another stark example of systemic racism in our nation. People of color have been adversely affected due to their lack of access to healthcare, their income and job status – many low income workers have no choice but to work during the COVID-19 crisis, putting themselves and their families at increased risk for COVID-19. In SEIU, some 75% of our more than 2 million members have been working throughout the crisis.
To CSEA members out there working on the front lines of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, I want to add an additional and emphatic thank you to all of you – what you are doing is heroic and greatly appreciated.
In our union, we are currently focusing on two key areas related to COVID. First, we continue to advocate in every way possible for those members working in harm’s way during this crisis. Our members stationed at correctional facilities and other COVID sensitive worksites like Southbury Training School deserve every protection and it is a daily struggle for proper PPE, testing, and contact tracing. In addition, we are fighting for hazardous duty pay and, for those who have contracted COVID-19, an automatic presumption that it was contracted at work and therefore covered under Workers’ Compensation.
Our second area of focus is on the many issues associated with the future reopening of workplaces that have been closed, or partly closed, during the crisis. Through an on-line survey, many of our state members offered input regarding reopening and we will use this input as we discuss these matters with the Lamont Administration. As with everything during this time, our primary goal is for worker safety. For the many who have been successfully teleworking, we will push to have these arrangements continued for as long as possible.
Speaking of the Lamont Administration, many state employee members have asked me about Governor Lamont’s request to meet with state employee union leaders about the negotiated 2020 general wage increases. Of course, when the Governor asked to meet we said yes and we listened respectfully. As many of us predicted, however, the Governor was understandably unable to offer anything that would make such a concession possible. As we all remember, we gave concessions in order to achieve this year’s raise and that increase is very important to all of us, especially in light of all that public sector workers are doing during this crisis.
In the wake of the exchange with the Governor, we know that our enemies will use this crisis to attack us. It has already started with local GOP leaders “thanking” state workers for the sacrifices they have made by demanding that the raises be withheld. Others have called for and will continue to call for the revocation of fundamental worker rights, like the right to collectively bargain.
Make no mistake, these attacks will amplify over the coming months. Unquestionably, budgets have been and will continue to be negatively impacted by the pandemic. The fundamental question is, should budgets be balanced on the backs of working families who are struggling to survive and thrive during this time? Or, should wealthy citizens and corporations be asked to pay their fair share? The answer is crystal clear, but it is up to us all to work hard to make sure that our state moves forward in a manner that broadens and elevates the middle class rather than one that devolves into austerity and cuts to public services. The election in November will be our first test. And, the legislative session of 2021 will be the second. At a time when budgets are debated and contracts expire, we will need to ensure no one forgets the critical work that our members perform.
Lastly, as you may know, this is a biennial convention year for CSEA. Normally the convention is something to look forward to; an opportunity for members to come together and celebrate each other. This year, given all of the factors that prevent large in-person public gatherings, the CSEA Executive Council voted unanimously to recommend postponement of our convention from this fall to the fall of 2021. As such, we will conduct a virtual special convention on June 27th to take up the singular motion of postponing the regular convention. Per the CSEA Constitution, the delegates to the special convention will be the same ones that served at the last biennial convention in 2018. Hope to see many of you on Zoom on June 27th.
In closing, it is my most sincere hope that all of you have a healthy and happy summer. Always remember, through our union, we have the ability to make change happen with our collective voices. As Mary Kay said, we have the ability to make this a turning point, and we should do just that.