The Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case on Wednesday brought politicians out of the woodwork to declare they stand with government unions — even as Connecticut’s SEBAC contract continues to strangle their budgets, their constituents and their ability to govern effectively.
The Court’s decision means government union members can opt-out of membership and not be forced to pay fees because — as the court determined — all government union work is inherently political; it determines budgets, taxes, government employee work hours and policy.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Connecticut’s current SEBAC contract, which was signed over twenty years ago and the extended until 2027.
It locks in place raises and benefits — particularly the pension and retiree healthcare costs, which are cannibalizing other state spending. Costs are going up, wages are going up, but revenue is stagnant.
How will Connecticut pay for those increases? It will either be via higher taxes or government service cuts. More likely, it will be both.
Facing a $4.6 billion deficit over the next biennium, lawmakers will find themselves in the position of a political captive — hands tied, blind-folded and locked in a dingy basement — and some of them are thanking union leaders for the (dis)honor.
They immediately came to the rhetorical rescue of Big Labor, which not only helped create the problem but stands in the way of fixing it.
The 2017 proposal that new state employees should be moved to a 401(k) style retirement plan or that overtime shouldn’t be included in pension calculations had union leaders comparing Connecticut to “backwards” Arkansas (which has higher gross domestic product and personal income growth than Connecticut).
The labor leaders who agreed to underfund their own members’ pension plans now bristle at the idea of trying correct the mistakes of the past.
The fringe benefit rates Connecticut pays for its employees are skyrocketing because of the underfunded pensions, and that hurts everyone. State employees point out they haven’t received a wage increase in years, but the state’s labor costs keep increasing. That means less money for salaries and raises.
Fringe benefit increases are causing deficits at UConn and Connecticut’s state universities and community colleges, driving up tuition for students.
Connecticut’s education-cost-sharing grants to municipalities will suffer setbacks as well, driving up costs for municipalities. Last year, ESC funding was largely held flat, but education costs for local governments continued to grow and some towns and cities still have to raise taxes or layoff teachers to balance their budgets.
New Haven approved an 11 percent property tax increase, diverted $5 million meant for the Board of Education to fund employee health benefits and eliminated 21 positions. Ansonia nearly had to close its schools early and Stratford closed a magnet school to avoid laying off 59 teachers, due in part to state funding cuts.
And, of course, local government and teacher unions are fighting for higher wages and better benefits at the municipal level. For many of those localities, however, the money just isn’t there. The trickle-down misery continues.
Despite that, some mayors and lawmakers stood with labor leaders on the steps of the State Supreme Court in solidarity, took pictures of themselves holding #Union signs, issued press releases touting the merits of the very organizations which hold their budgets hostage.
Gov. Malloy, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp — among others — came rushing to the unions’ aid as if begging for more punishment.
The truth is they know all of this, they just can’t say it due to political fear.
Mark Janus successfully argued that all government union work is inherently political. The evidence is not in a courtroom, it’s on the front page of every newspaper.