We Make Connecticut Happen

"Respect Those Who Protect"

 
Chants of “tax the rich, not the workers” and “respect those who protect” reverberated outside the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford March 29 as more than 700 state public safety workers marched to protest of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “austerity budget” that includes substantial state employee layoffs and deep cuts to vital services.

Members of Council 4’s Corrections and Judicial bargaining units were a big part of the rally, which was sponsored by the newly-formed Connecticut Public Safety Employee Coalition, an alliance of unions representing nearly 10,000 state workers on the front lines of public safety and criminal justice.

“We are the individuals who protect Connecticut citizens,” said coalition spokesman Charles DellaRocco, a State Supreme Court Police Officer and President of AFSCME Local 749, representing 1,600 state workers. “We’re here to say that mass layoffs and cuts to our services will make Connecticut a more dangerous and less law-abiding place.”

The Connecticut legislature recently approved a stop-gap budget to close a nearly $200 million hole for the current fiscal year, but a deficit of more than $900 million looms for the next fiscal year. The governor and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have adamantly ruled out any revenue solutions, and instead have pushed for state employee unions to reopen their 2011 health and pension agreement for concessionary bargaining.

“State employees are taxpayers too,” said Correctional Officer and AFSCME Local 391 President Collin Provost. “So why are we being singled out to pay a special tax on middle class state employees? That’s a reduction in what puts clothes on our family, feeds our children, and provides us a modest home. We should be taxed fairly.”

Absent economic concessions, Malloy is proceeding with plans for “very, very substantial” layoffs that could number in the thousands. He’s also ordered state agencies like the Department of Correction to cut their budgets by millions.

Sara Johannesen, a correction officer and member of AFSCME Local 1565, works at Bridgeport Correctional Center. She said short staffing is already causing her fellow officers to work 16 hour shifts, 4-5 days a week.

“How aware can you constantly be when you’re carrying that kind of work load?” Johannesen asked. “If there’s a code, it doesn’t just jeopardize the person working in a unit, it jeopardizes everyone who runs to a code and what happens after it.”

Several state legislators spoke at the rally and urged union members to hold their elected leaders accountable for the dangerous decisions they’re making.

“This is a fight. If you just hang in the background and wait for somebody else to fight for you, it’s not going to turn out well,” said Rep. Russ Morin (D-Wethersfield).

“You can rely on me to respect those who protect,” said David Kiner (D-East Windsor/Enfield), whose district includes 3 correctional facilities.

“I don’t understand how you are going to grow the economy by laying off good, hard-working employees who play by the rules,” added Rep. David Alexander (D-Enfield), whose district also includes many correctional officers.

Connecticut’s new public safety coalition plans to keep the street heat going. Immediately after their rally, which attracted statewide press coverage, more than 100 union members went inside the Capitol to lobby their legislators and urge them to make better choices – such as raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and ending reckless outsourcing – rather than pursue layoffs and service cuts.

“You’re putting your lives on the line to keep the citizens of Connecticut safe,” said Correctional Officer Rudy Demiraj, president of AFSCME Local 387. “Yet [the governor and legislators] want to play politics with our lives and our futures. We’re not going to let them. We’re going to keep fighting.”

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