CHRISTOPHER KEATING 10:46 pm, April 4, 2016
HARTFORD — With signs and chants, nearly 750 state employees and their supporters held a raucous rally Monday evening inside the Capitol complex to call for justice, fair wages and no concessions.The rally came at a time when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy could order as many as 2,000 layoffs to balance next year’s $20 billion state budget. The unions, so far, have not agreed to any givebacks on pensions or health care benefits, instead, repeatedly calling
for the wealthiest individuals and corporations to pay more taxes to balance the budget.
Shirley Watson, a clinical social worker for the Department of Correction and a state employee for more than 17 years, said, “The super wealthy, the 1 percent, the corporations have a different vision. They want Connecticut to look like Wisconsin. … We’re here to say, ‘No, we are not Wisconsin.”’ The reference was apparently to that state’s anti-union governor, Scott Walker.
The rally expanded to broader issues under the Democracy, Unity and Equality Coalition that is a conglomeration of labor, community and civil rights organizations. Those issues included a minimum wage of $15 per hour and racial justice.
The two-part rally started at the Emanuel Lutheran Church on Capitol Avenue before the marchers crossed the street to the Legislative Office Building to hail some Democratic legislators. In all, 19 legislators were called out by name as “heroes,” though none spoke at the rally.
While organizers said the crowd ranged as high as 1,200, the state Capitol police said the official count showed that 748 people had passed through the metal detectors at the LOB entrance.In a booming voice, the Rev. Scott Marks, the rally’s emcee, energized the crowd in what may have been the largest and loudest rally at the Capitol complex in recent years. As the seat of government, the interior of the Capitol is not traditionally the place for political rallies.
Shouting at times, Marks led the crowd in a loud chant of “This is our house! This is our house!” He added, “I want to make sure that we don’t break the rules. There’s no rallying in this building. We’re not here tonight for a rally. We’re here tonight for a check-in about the kind of lives that we are demanding to have. … We will be back!”
Paul Filson, a prominent union activist, stepped to the microphone at one point and led the chant of “Stop the cuts! Stop the cuts!”
Rep. Peter Tercyak, a New Britain Democrat who attended the event, said that legislators need to remember that state employees won a federal court battle against the state following the layoffs of unionized employees ordered by then-Gov. John G. Rowland. Terycak was a nurse supervisor at the top of the pay scale at that time in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and said he is still owed compensation 14 years later because of the long-running lawsuit.”It’s a reminder that layoffs are not as easy a solution as it may seem,” Tercyak said in an interview. “Layoffs allow people to collect unemployment compensation. Layoffs cost money.”
While some legislators say they expect layoffs to start within the next two weeks, the president of the District 1199 union, David Pickus, said he has not given up hope.
“Why would layoffs be inevitable?” asked Pickus. “Services make Connecticut what it is. It’s a place that cares about its citizenry. The worry I have is some people politicize it.”
But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven – the two top Democrats in the legislature – both said recently that they do not see enough support for any tax increases to be adopted by the legislature this year. Republicans say they do not expect tax hikes in an election year.
The legislature’s budget and tax committees are scheduled to make their recommendations this week for the next fiscal year, and then top lawmakers will negotiate with Malloy to try to strike a budget deal before the legislative session adjourns on May 4.
After the rally, about 20 people got stuck in an LOB elevator for more than an hour, said Officer Scott Driscoll, a Capitol police spokesman.
Police called the company that services the building’s elevators for assistance.
Courant staff writer Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.