Politics- What is politics? Lately in this country, politics has been described as tribal warfare. But the answer to the question “What is politics?” is very simple: it is “Who Gets What.” For State employees and state retirees, politics has meant pensions, health care including retiree health care, and collective bargaining.
Pensions were established for state employees in 1939 nearly 40 years before State employees had the right to collective bargaining for union contracts. Pensions came about through the collective action of State employees in CSEA lobbying the General Assembly for dignity in retirement. It was about politics.
Healthcare for active employees came later, but initially the State only paid for individual coverage and the employee was responsible for covering the rest of his or her family. Through lobbying, the State picked up more of the cost of family coverage. And finally, during the 1980’s, CSEA Council 400 in a five year campaign lobbied the General Assembly to secure 100% paid for retiree health insurance coverage. Again, it was about politics.
Social Security and Medicare came about because of politics. Ironically, there were politicians that opposed Medicare because they said it was socialized medicine. But politics won out and is the basis for our current retiree health insurance for our members that are 65 or older. Social Security and Medicare is by far the greatest antipoverty program for seniors in this country. It allows them to live their final years with dignity. It was about politics.
In 1975, after many years of lobbying, collective bargaining rights came to State employees long after it was established for private sector workers in 1935, Connecticut teachers got the right in 1961 and followed by municipal employees in 1965. The highlights of State employee collective bargaining were higher wages, better healthcare benefits, a real grievance procedure and an opportunity to address specific workplace issues including health and safety issues.
In 1994, a coalition of which included CSEA bargained an agreement called the SCOPE agreement or sometimes referred to as the OJE agreement. SCOPE stands for the State Coalition on Pay Equity and OJE stands for the Objective Job Evaluation. This historic agreement eliminated pay equities between classifications including those caused by sex and race. At that time, certain jobs that were female dominated were paid less than those occupied by mostly men. The agreement did so by raising the pay for female dominated jobs and not by lowering the pay of other workers. The 1994 agreement did not come about because the State as an employer woke up one day and said it had a problem, it was the lobbying efforts of State employee unions in the late 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s that brought forth this process and eventual agreement. It was about politics and being on the right side of history. Unfortunately, wage inequities still exist for our paraeducators at local boards of education. It is also the time to address this inequity, just like the Teacher Enhancement Act in the mid-80’s addressed the low pay of teachers.
While much can be attributed to the work of State employees union through collective bargaining, the basis was the public policies and eventually laws that emanated from the General Assembly and our elective representatives. It was not that of a benevolent State employer. Again, the framework for eliminating wage inequities came forth by a law passed in 1979 to study wage inequities and from collective bargaining rights passed for State employees in 1975. It took a while, but history was made in Connecticut.
This all leads us to this upcoming election and “who gets what” or more importantly “who doesn’t get what.” In a recent editorial in the New London Day, the newspaper called for reducing the pension benefits of retired State employees. They were not calling for reducing the pension benefits of current State employees, but those that have already retired from State service. Some previous gubernatorial candidates have spoken about breaking the SEBAC agreement on pension and healthcare, but they want to impact current State employees. Now the Day is leading the charge to give what they call a “haircut” to retirees. How much hair does the Day want to cut? Do they want to cut off enough to eliminate all the unfunded liability? Unfortunately to do so, you would have to dig up the remains of some past state employees and cut their hair as well. As many of you know, both literally and figuratively, for a number of retired State employees there is not much hair left to cut.
In a recent survey of Council 400 members there was nearly unanimous support for retiree health insurance, pensions with cost-of-living adjustments, Social Security and Medicare. The support cut cross party lines, it had support of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated members. So as you get ready to vote this fall whether in person or by absentee ballot and if you are a Connecticut resident contact those running for State representative or State senator in your area and ask them about their position on cutting State employee pensions and retiree health insurance for those already retired from state service. For Congress, ask those running how they plan to fund Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years. Listen or read carefully their responses because you will find out for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and even your great children “Who will get what.”