To the Editor of the Daily Campus,
Jacob Marie’s opinion piece (Oct 29), smearing both unions and gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont as “a labor union lapdog”, is both misleading and misinformed. Marie blames Connecticut’s fiscal problems on an “unholy marriage” between labor and the Democratic Party while failing to identify himself as Director of Political Engagement for the UConn College Republicans. Nor does he reveal that his “facts” come from the anti-union, libertarian Yankee Institute. Marie says unions have “poured huge amounts of money” into Lamont’s campaign, but he ignores the far greater amount the Republican Governor’s Association (with unlimited corporate donations) is spending for Lamont’s opponent.
To their credit, Democrats like Lamont understand that unions, though collective bargaining, built the American middle class and are essential for preserving it. And that – not some phony conspiracy or imagined corruption – is the reason union members tend to vote Democratic.
Let’s set the record straight. First, Connecticut’s fiscal woes don’t stem from “unsustainable salaries and benefits given to state employees”. The real problem is debt. For decades, Connecticut promised retirement benefits to public employees without saving a dime to cover them; when it finally did start saving, it raided the pension fund. The result is a legacy of $100 billion in unfunded pension obligations. The current cost of benefits has nothing to do with it.
Marie also fails to explain that state employees have, through collective bargaining, bailed Connecticut out of three budget crises since 2008. Concessions negotiated in 2017 will save Connecticut $1.57 billion in the current biennium alone and $25 billion over 20 years. In the current biennium, state employees on average gave up $30,000 each. Yet Marie calls the 2017 agreement “irresponsible”.
Third, Marie’s claim that “state employees make anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 more than their private sector counterparts” is false or seriously misleading. If we’re talking salaries, then it’s just false; private sector salaries are higher, especially for employees with advanced degrees. State jobs do tend to come with better benefits, but that difference has narrowed as state benefits have been “leveled down” (through negotiations).
The real issue isn’t whether public sector benefits are too high; its whether private sector benefits are too low. Big corporations, eager to please shareholders, have been reducing benefits for years; many small employers offer none at all. Jobs that used to provide excellent benefits no longer do, and the reason is that corporations have nearly destroyed collective bargaining.
Executive Director, UConn-AAUP