CT state workers’ retirement ‘tsunami’ was milder than expected


State government agencies are emerging from the spring surge in employee retirements well positioned to preserve vital services, Gov. Ned Lamont and other administration officials said Wednesday.

“The much-talked-about silver tsunami is more like a summer storm,” Lamont said during a mid-morning news conference at the offices of the state’s Office of Information Technology.

Competitive salaries and bonuses, more strategic recruiting efforts and an increased reliance on digital platforms and hybrid working conditions have helped agencies weather the challenges of more than 4,000 retirements, officials said. ‘administration.

The administration has hired more than 6,000 people in the fiscal year, which ends Thursday. That’s about 1,000 more than the state average in recent years, said Nicholas Hermes, the state’s chief director of social services.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents most bargaining units in state government, sees things differently.

“The exodus has only exacerbated the destruction of vital public services on which all workers in Connecticut depend, especially black and brown workers, women and immigrant workers,” the coalition wrote in a statement.

Union officials have repeatedly taken a different perspective from the governor’s, saying most state agencies faced a staffing crisis even before the start of the spring surge in retirements.

The Comptroller’s Office warned more than two years ago that about a quarter of the state’s aging workforce, or more than 10,000 employees, could be eligible to retire by July 1, 2022 – although he never expected many workers to quit.

The July 1, 2022 date is important because a 2017 concessions package between the state and its employee unions agreed to tighten retirement benefits for workers who retire after that date.

A new pension cost-of-living adjustment system approved after July 1 is linked to the consumer price index.

And the first COLA payment for retirees won’t come until 30 months after retirement. Under the outgoing system, this payment occurs within the first nine to 15 months.

The Comptroller’s Office reported Wednesday morning that 3,090 state employees retired between Jan. 1 and June 1 and another 1,361 filed their written intention to retire by July 1.

In a typical year, the state sees 2,000 to 2,500 retirements.

And although the wave of retirements in the spring has created challenges, Hermes said: “Our workforce is fantastic.”

Hermes, who is deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, said employment in the executive branch — excluding public colleges and universities — is just over 31,000, the highest mark since 2016.

Connecticut has also become much more strategic in its recruitment, targeting talent with technology skills to help the government move more services online and rely more on data analytics.

“We’re really excited for the future,” he said.

Hermès added that there are “hot spots” in state government. Agencies especially need licensed medical and engineering professionals and information technology specialists. These are “incredibly difficult careers to recruit for and, more specifically, to retain,” he said.

But unions counter that the state still needs to act much faster to fill vacancies.

Under Lamont’s predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the executive branch’s workforce shrunk nearly 10% between 2011 and 2018.

Malloy had few options other than to downsize. Often faced with large projected budget shortfalls – and trying to avoid tax hikes and program cuts whenever possible – lawmakers frequently ordered Malloy to find huge savings after the start of the financial year and entry into force of the budget. This is usually achieved, in part, by freezing jobs as they become vacant.

Unions say hiring hasn’t improved enough since Lamont took office in January 2019.

Collin Provost, a correctional officer and president of the American Federation of State Counties and Municipal Employees representing more than 1,800 prison guards, said the system had lost about 500 frontline workers – before retirements. of June are considered.

“This alarming level of staffing puts correctional officers at risk every day,” Provost said. “We are currently on track for a record number of assaults on staff. The overtime we have been ordered is not only unsustainable, but it adds more stress to the staff we have.

Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199NE, said about 1,000 jobs in the state related to mental health and addiction services need to be filled.

“Frontline staff providing health care, mental health and addictions services know that Connecticut faces dangerously low staff shortages that have shut down services to the most vulnerable,” Baril said.

“People seeking drug treatment and children in need of psychiatric services have been denied lifesaving care because the state has failed to hire enough health care workers to provide services,” Baril said. “Some misguided politicians see the long-awaited ‘silver tsunami’ wave of retirements as a golden opportunity to cut state services, divest from programs that support blacks, browns, IPAs. [Asian/Pacific Islander,] and white working class communities.

According to data obtained by the CT Mirror from the Office of State Policy and Management in late April, all executive branch agencies – excluding public colleges and universities – had collectively filled 25,700 of the 30,080 positions authorized for them in the state budget.

The vacancy rate of 17% is almost double what it was two years ago, when 9.4% of jobs were vacant.

Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Michelle Gilman said the state has also mitigated the potential “silver tsunami” by offering competitive salaries and bonuses, as well as flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting that attract workers. amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last spring, the governor negotiated, and the legislature ratified, new four-year wage contracts with bargaining units representing the bulk of the state’s workforce.

The contracts include annual 2.5% cost-of-living increases, step increases — adding another 2 or 2.5 percentage points to the pay of all but the oldest workers — and $3,500 in bonuses. distributed in spring and summer.

“All of our agencies continue to meet with our union partners to see how we can be strategic in retaining and hiring new employees,” Gilman said. “These conversations are ongoing, and they will continue in the months and years to come.”

As economists fear the nation’s economy is heading into a recession, Lamont said Connecticut is well prepared to ensure a downturn doesn’t hurt the state’s workforce.

“I think you’re going to see the quality of our services continue,” the governor said.

The State’s emergency budgetary reserve is at its legal maximum, equal to 15% of annual operating costs. In the new fiscal year that begins July 1, that’s about $3.3 billion.

Connecticut is also set to make an unprecedented $3.6 billion additional payment on its long-term pension debt. State officials say that and $1.7 billion in other additional payments made over the previous two years will help reduce required pension contributions in future budgets, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in resources additional for other programs.

“We’re not going to cut services,” Lamont said, “We’re not going to lay people off.”

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