HARTFORD, Conn., (March 24, 2017) – With chants of “Vote Them Out” and “We Will Fight,” nearly 1,500 public sector workers took over Minuteman Park in front of the Legislative Office Building Friday to stand against a plethora of bills being heard by the legislature that attack their rights and benefits.
Of the 96 bills heard in the Appropriations Committee, 77 of them directly stand to undermine health care, pension, and collective bargaining rights of employees.
“I just went through a six-month battle with cancer,” corrections officer and AFSCME 391 Vice President David Caron testified before the committee. “If those co-pays had gone up I don’t know how I’d have survived cancer, let alone manage to support my wife and three daughters.”
Caron’s fears were shared by many: from police and corrections officers to teachers and paraeducators to scientists and university professors, public sector workers tired of being public punching bags gathered from across Connecticut to resist these policies, which have been unfolding in other states across the nation.
Throughout the day, hundreds of public sector workers and union members cycled through the Capitol, amplifying their message so it would be heard loud and clear by lawmakers: Connecticut is shrouded with the highest income inequality in the country and these bills threaten to set the state on a path to an even greater divide.
“They’re not going after the people who make over $500,000 or the billionaires or the corporate elite,” Caron noted. “They’re going after us - the working and middle class - who get taxed the highest and are left to shoulder the burden.”
Despite clouded skies overhead during the rally, the path forward was crystal clear for Sotonye Otunba-Payne a state courtroom monitor and member of AFSMCE Local 749, who fired up the crowd with a call to demand that the ultra-wealthy and big corporations finally pay their fair share to protect public services.
"I don't know about you, but I'm tired of all the attacks on the working class," she said. "It seems like Connecticut is more interested in protecting hedge managers and insurance CEOs than its shrinking middle class."
Like Caron, Otunba-Payne sits on the Council 4 Executive Board.
Also on Friday, a press conference led by faith leaders addressed the immorality of legislation that puts workers’ families, health and well-being at risk.
"It is profoundly immoral to attempt to balance the state budget on the backs of workers. It is profoundly immoral to attempt to damage the bargaining power of unions when unions stand not only as a bulwark against the downward spiral in wages and benefits in the so-called ‘right to work’ states," said Rev. Josh Pawelek of the Universalist Unitarian Society in Manchester.
Brian Becker, a student at Central Connecticut State University, also spoke at the press conference, saying:
“I believe that working people should be able to buy a house, afford healthcare, and send their children to college. Cutting funding for vital public services, slashing wages and undermining the rights to bargain collectively will not help workers. Our answers won’t be found in budget cuts or a race to the bottom. We should empower Connecticut’s workforce, not undermine it.”
Story by Elizabeth Newberg, CT State Universities-AAUP Union