When it comes to collective bargaining in Waterbury, Democrat Joan Hartley makes her opposition clear.
Tempers flared at the Capitol Thursday on a bill that restores collective bargaining rights for Waterbury city workers, with state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury) yelling against the idea at a Democratic caucus and then storming out of the room, sources say. The next day, Hartley told ctnewsjunkie.com that if state Sen. Edith Prague (D-Columbia) cared so much about collective bargaining in Waterbury, the Labor Committee co-chair “should come on down” and run for office.“I told Edith she should come on down to Waterbury, run for office and get elected- God forbid that happens,” Hartley said.But Prague and union leaders see Hartley and others in the Waterbury legislative delegation as inflexible and disrespectful towards labor rights. When the state bailed out Waterbury four years ago, the legislature authorized an oversight board to impose labor contracts on the city’s municipal unions. The unions lost the right to appeal those contracts to binding arbitration.At the time, the legislature reasoned that the oversight board needed such broad powers in order to right the city’s financial ship. However, with the city now in the black and its bond rating improved, labor officials have been pushing a bill this session that would abolish the oversight board on June 30, 2006- six months early. The bill would also immediately restore binding arbitration, so that the unions can bargain their deals. The city’s unions fear that the oversight board will unilaterally impose lengthy contracts that extend well beyond when the board ceases to exist, says Lori Pelletier, Secretary-Treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. “Collective bargaining is what the labor movement does,” Pelletier said. So while legislators friendly to labor- like Prague- have pushed the bill, Waterbury’s elected representatives- including Hartley- have pushed back, arguing it would jeopardize the city’s financial health. In a committee meeting earlier this session, Hartley strenuously argued that people from outside her city have no right to make the rules for them.It was a theme she picked up Thursday. Throughout the day, labor leaders, legislators and Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura met together with House Speaker James Amann in an attempt to reach a compromise. But the two sides could not agree on a deal.That day, the Senate Democrats discussed the idea in caucus. According to Prague, Hartley’s temper rose as she argued against the bill. Finally, Hartley yelled “This is my town!” finished her point and then abruptly left the room, Prague said.Two independent sources who were in the caucus room confirmed Prague’s version of events.Hartley acknowledges walking out of the caucus. She never even got to discussing substance, she says, because she is incensed at the way the process has moved on this issue.“We have a rule you don’t put an amendment on another chairman’s bill,” Hartley said. “So how does a member legislate for another member’s district? I’m still stuck on process.“Time is working against the unions, however. As of 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Senate had no plans to run the Waterbury bill that evening. Even if it passed the upper chamber this weekend, it would hit the House with a maximum of only three days left in the session. At that point, House leaders usually take a dim view of any bill that will produce extended debate, because it slows down the pace of business so other bills can’t pass. And state Rep. Jeffrey Berger (D-Waterbury), who is just as opposed to the collective bargaining bill as is Hartley, promises a full discussion.“If a bill comes to the House, there will be a lengthy debate,” Berger said with a smile, “and there will be amendments.”