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Workers Ask Lawmakers to Focus on the ‘99 Percent’

by | Apr 4, 2016 8:33pm
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Posted to: Business, The Economy, Health Care, Housing, Jobs, Labor, State Budget, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

Crowd begins to filter into the Legislative Office Building in Hartford

A coalition of labor, community, and civil rights groups gathered Monday at a Hartford church before marching to the Legislative Office Building to ask lawmakers to put the “99 percent” ahead of the wealthiest “1 percent.”

Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut, told a crowd of about 400 at the Hartford’s Emanuel Lutheran Church that lawmakers want them to believe Connecticut is broke.

“It’s not broke unless they broke it on purpose,” Hochadel said.

Christine Stuart photo

Jan Hochadel, president of AFT CT

She said they’re telling us that the “new economic reality” needs to be balanced on the backs of middle class state employees.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said layoffs of the state workforce are necessary to balance the 2017 state budget, even though he doesn’t blame workers for creating the current fiscal crisis.

“Did they look at other options? Did they ask us for our input?” Hochadel asked the crowd. They shouted “no” in response.

“There have to be other options. How about putting up tolls? Or changing tax structures?” Hochadel suggested.

She said if a budget is about priorities then lawmakers are telling people they “value the wealthy and corporations instead of those who teach our children, care for our sick, help people transition from prison, and those who work in our state buildings every day,” Hochadel said. “That may be their values, but those are not our values.”

“Enough is enough,” Hochadel said.

Christine Stuart photo

Workers rally at the Legislative Office Building

The crowd at the church cheered for Alejandro Mendoza, a McDonald’s employee who said he makes $9.60 an hour. When he said how much he made they “booed.” Mendoza said he is part of an alliance that is fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Legislation supporting a $15 minimum wage died in the Labor and Public Employees Committee, but Rep. Peter Tercyak, who co-chairs the committee, said it’s possible the legislation will be revived.

“We represent the people. When we hear from the people that this is what they want, then it happens,” Tercyak said.

It’s a long shot that the legislation would be revived this legislative session, but bills creating a public retirement system and implementing paid family and medical leave are still alive.

By the time the coalition got to the Legislative Office Building the crowd had swelled to 748 people with more lined up outside the door waiting in the snow to get into the building. Many didn’t make inside before the program ended.

Shirley Watson, a mental health counselor with SEIU 1199, said prosperity for all begins with everyone being able to get a good job and a fair wage.

Watson said the 1 percent and business organizations want Connecticut to look like Wisconsin.

“They want to attack workers’ rights,” Watson said. “They want to decimate community services. We’re here to say, ‘No’.”

Christine Stuart photo

Alejandro Mendoza, a McDonald’s worker

Brian Becker, a CCSU student, said Connecticut has given away large tax breaks to profitable companies like United Technologies Corporation, and has withheld smaller amounts of money from state hospitals.

“Why is that they can not pay their fair share to protect Connecticut’s future?” Becker asked. “To what extent are people willing to pay the exorbitant salaries of CEOs at the expense of schools, hospitals, critical social services, and are overall quality of life in this state?”

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut’s chapter of Common Cause, said the state needs to look at how to have a fair economy.

“How does that look? And how does that benefit all of us, not just the few of us?” Quickmire said.

Connecticut is facing a $900 million state budget deficit in 2017 and Malloy has proposed about $570 million in spending cuts that fall largely on social services and higher education. Later this week, the legislature’s Appropriations Committee will unveil their budget and the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee is expected to release a revenue package to match it.

But lawmakers and Malloy have largely avoided talking about tax increases or any change to Connecticut’s tax structure.

Earlier on Monday, Malloy, who signed the two largest tax increases in Connecticut’s history into law at the start of each of his two terms, said that continuing to raise taxes isn’t the answer.

“I’m not agreeing to any tax increases,” Malloy said.

He said Connecticut can only spend the money it receives, even if that means laying off state employees and reducing access to state services.

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