for a Better

Bargaining for the Common Good to Reduce Inequality in Connecticut

Keavy McFadden, PhD, Kelter Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Studies, Center for Urban and Global Studies, Trinity College

Connecticut has long been known unofficially as “The Land of Steady Habits.” Regrettably, economic and racial inequality is one those steady and enduring habits. Today, Connecticut is marked by two halves and has one of the largest wealth gaps in the country. In 2022, the US Census Bureau reported that Connecticut had a Gini coefficient of 0.501, a statistic that integrates multiple data points to represent income inequality.1 The national average is 0.486, with a low of 0.426 (Utah) and a high of 0.521 (New York). Across this spectrum, Connecticut ranks second highest in the nation. This is compounded by high levels of racial inequality as segregation remains high across the state, with the metro areas of Bridgeport and Hartford consistently ranking among the most segregated urban regions in the US.2 Yet, Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the US, having boasted a $87,447 per capita personal income in 20233 and a high median household income of $88,429 in 2022.4 Research has shown that inequality such as this negatively impacts economic growth, educational outcomes, overall health and well-being, and environmental conditions. In this time of increasing precarity and ongoing crisis, Connecticut needs to kick its bad habit of deep-seated inequity.

The key to fighting this inequity lies in reversing austerity measures and pursuing renewed investments in public goods and services such as housing, education, and healthcare. Research has shown that, at a national level, public services significantly bolster the real income of poor residents, sometimes stepping in to serve as the equivalent of 76% of post-tax income.5 In other words, in Connecticut, a strong public sector that provides for the common good and invests in core human needs can go a long way in redistributing the wealth that exists in the state and supporting working class and minoritized communities. But how do we achieve this vision in Connecticut when austerity and disinvestment have become the political norm? 

Bargaining for the Common Good

One potential avenue that has proved effective in other parts of the country is strong coalitions between labor unions and community organizations that push for expanded resources in the public sector, an approach to labor organizing known as bargaining for the common good. Bargaining for the common good is a strategy that mobilizes union bargaining to support broader campaigns for structural change by building long-term partnerships between unions and community organizations.6 Organizers stress that the solidarities that emerge from this model are long-term partnerships between the unions and non-labor partners, not simply temporary or strategic alliances for specific strikes or campaigns. In this strategy, unions use their negotiating power to win public improvements beyond those about their members’ wages, benefits, and job security. While the labor movement has long been involved in intentional solidarity with other movements, bargaining for the common good is a novel model because it leverages labor’s most unique tool – collective bargaining for a contract – towards broader social and economic justice campaigns. 

Bargaining for the common good takes many shapes.7 In California, teachers with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) used their contract negotiations to demand that LA shift resources away from racialized policing and towards public goods such as housing and healthcare. UTLA also demanded that the school district provide immigration resources for students and staff, including an immigration legal defense fund. As another example, Southern California Public Service Workers with SEIU 721 demanded that the city develop a training program to support low-income and minoritized community members in securing public sector jobs. Here in New England, Massachusetts workers with SEIU 509 have demanded greater state support for children, including increased investments in foster care, childcare, and after-school programs. In Florida, SEIU Local 8 has utilized their bargaining to advance climate justice, making demands around ending city and state fossil fuel subsidies, offering more time off to employees who bike or use public transit to work, and transforming publicly owned vacant lots into community gardens. While these efforts are diverse and wide-ranging, they all focus on using labor contracts to expand public goods and services, particularly to those more marginalized, and to build more equitable communities. 

This model holds promise for Connecticut. Inequality and segregation in the state have a long history; strong coalitions between labor and community groups have the potential to repair our legacies of inequity by pushing for increased investments in public goods across the spectrum of education, housing, healthcare, and transit. The good news is that efforts in this direction already exist, such as partnerships between SEIU 1199 NE and Bridgeport Generation Now to fight for racial justice, as well as coalitions such as Connecticut for All, which brings together labor, faith, and community organizations with the goal of fighting inequality. These commitments and solidarities strengthen our collective power to stop austerity and demand reinvestments in the common good. Hopefully, in the coming decades, these coalitions can drive Connecticut to kick its steady habit of racial and economic inequality. 


  1. US Census Bureau, Household Income in States and Metropolitan Areas: 2022 (2023): ↩︎
  2. Urbanomics, Connecticut Housing and Segregation Study (2024): ↩︎
  3. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “SAINC1 State annual personal income summary: personal income, population, per capita personal income” (accessed Wednesday, April 10, 2024). ↩︎
  4. US Census Bureau, Household Income in States and Metropolitan Areas: 2022 (2023): ↩︎
  5. Oxfam International,  Working for the Many: Public services fight inequality (2014): ↩︎
  6. Bargaining for the Common Good, About Us (2024): ↩︎
  7. Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, Concrete Examples of Bargaining for the Common Good (2019): ↩︎

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