by Christian Wade
Tens of thousands of Connecticut state workers will be getting bonuses after a labor arbiter awarded them more than $45 million in pandemic-related back pay.
The ruling by Arbitrator Susan Meredith, which must be approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, would provide bonuses from $250 to $2,834 for employees in high-risk jobs, which include police, firefighters and state-run nursing homes. Workers in lower-risk jobs would receive bonuses ranging from $125 to $1,417, under the ruling.
In her decision, Meredith said the focus of the arbitration between the Lamont administration and public sector unions over the bonus pay was the “welfare of essential workers,” who toiled throughout the pandemic “at great risk to their physical and mental well-being.”
“Additional pay cannot compensate these employees for the risks they took, the illness and death they experienced and watched,” she wrote in the 18-page ruling. “Providing pandemic pay as generously as possible, reflects the gratitude and recognition that will increase the welfare of these employees.”
Under the arbitration award, some workers in higher-risk jobs could receive a second bonus, ranging from $270 to $2,854, to cover overtime costs, while those in low-risk jobs could receive $135 to $1,427.
“These employees enforced law and order, cared for the sick, the disabled, responded to emergencies and maintained the equipment and infrastructure that allowed this work to continue,” she wrote in the ruling.
The bonuses were approved in 2021 by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ned Lamont as part of a $46.4 billion, two-year state budget. But union leaders rejected the state’s initial offer, and the two sides began negotiating last year. The unions called for arbitration in October, citing a failure to reach a deal.
The Lamont administration had initially offered a $1,500 bonus for full-time employees who worked at least 1,280 hours between March 2020 and March 2021, with an additional $500 for those who worked more than 200 hours overtime. Employees who worked remotely would receive $1,000, under the offer. But union leaders rejected the proposal.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents most state workers, praised the arbiters decision and called the award a “tangible recognition for the dedication and sacrifices essential on-site workers made during the height of the virus’s impact.”
“Since the very first day of Governor Lamont’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” emergency declaration, essential on-site state workers risked their lives and the lives of their families, as well as their physical and mental health to deliver core public services for Connecticut residents and businesses,” the union said in a statement.
The bonus payments for state workers are one of several “hero pay” initiatives created to provide financial relief for essential workers who worked throughout the pandemic.
In February, the state began sending around $1,000 payments to more than 155,000 “essential” private sector workers in the health care, public safety, education and food service industries who stayed on the job during the height of the pandemic.
More workers qualified for the payments than the state had projected, forcing lawmakers to allocate another $90 million during a special lame duck session last year.
The state has also created a $34 million grant fund to help workers who lost wages and faced COVID-19-related medical expenses and burial costs.
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Christian Wade is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Firefighters” by Pixabay.