Labor unions gathered by the thousand Sunday in Bushnell Park to raise awareness about what they say is a loss of workers’ rights both in the state and the country.
“We’re not Massachusetts. We’re not Wisconsin. We’re Connecticut and we’re going to make jobs and labor work,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman told the crowd.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration is seeking $2 billion in labor concessions over the next two years from state employee unions, but Wyman said that doesn’t mean the administration doesn’t support collective bargaining rights. Wyman was filling in for Malloy, who was out of state Sunday.
“We don’t want people leaving this state and we don’t want our union jobs leaving this state,” Wyman said.
She said the legislature is considering allowing more employee groups to organize because “we want to have more organizing of labor, not less organizing of labor.” She asked the crowd to help them build Connecticut into the “bluest union state in the country.”
Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and the Malloy administration’s chief labor negotiator, said Friday that layoff notices could start going out as early as next week and both sides are keenly aware time is running out. He said he hopes to be able to make an announcement next week.
“As the governor said, the fact that we’re continuing to talk is a good sign,” Ojakian told reporters Friday.
“Ironically, middle class workers are the ones getting slammed by the Democrats’ budget, which raises taxes on everything from income to property to clothing,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said Sunday. “Record-setting tax hikes will be voted on Monday and Tuesday, and I urge people who are frustrated and angry to fight these tax hikes.” He urged the public to call the Senate and House Democrats.
But it’s not only public employee unions that feel they’re under attack. The New England Carpenters’ Union voted to go on strike this past Friday against the Associated General Contractors of Connecticut. According to at least one member it was over benefits, not wages.
“Let’s make no mistake about it we’re under siege right now,” Edward Kennedy Jr., the son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy told the crowd. “All we have to do is look to Ohio, look to Wisconsin, look at the Republican majority in Congress.”
He said everyone agrees spending needs to be cut, but the Republicans are trying to gut health care and turn it into a voucher program and gut the environmental protection agency.
“They want to take that money and give it back to the richest two percent of the earners in this country and we know right here today that that is not fair,” Kennedy told the crowd. “We know what we need to do is invest in our country.”
He said the core values of Democrats are under assault.
“We need a society with a sense of justice, a sense of fairness,” Kennedy told the crowd. “That is what the labor movement is all about, that is what the Democratic party is all about and that is why we are going to fight to make sure that we are no longer have these rights taken away.”
Charles LeConche, business manager of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council, said his building in Hartford is a labor “temple” and he wants to get back to a time when being a member of a labor union was like a religion.
Ed Reilly, business manager and president of Iron Workers Local 15, urged his brothers and sisters not to forget the history of the labor movement and the men and women that came before them.
“We owe it to those who have gone before us to standup and do whatever necessary, each and every day, to defeat the bastards who want to take your jobs,” Reilly said. “Connecticut’s a union state and we’re going to make it stronger.”
House Speaker Chris Donovan lead the crowd in a chant: “Proud to be union. Proud to be workers,” they repeated after him.
Donovan also used his time at the podium to promote universal health care and paid sick leave.
Sen. President Donald Williams, said it was a handful of people that took the economy over the cliff and those individuals continue to profit while workers suffer.
“We don’t have too big to fail when it comes to middle class families,“ Williams told the crowd. “We need you to stand up and help us fight to take back the jobs for middle class families.“
As he pointed toward the Capitol he said the Democratic majority in the legislature and Malloy are working very hard to finish the budget, but on the eve of a budget vote in the Senate there are many hoping “that we fail.”
“The enemies of organized labor and middle class families…they’re working right now at this hour to try and take the train off the tracks,” Williams said.
He said he was referring to the letter Jack Fowler of the Roger Sherman Liberty Center sent Republicans in the Connecticut legislature.
The Senate will vote on a budget Monday and the House is expected to vote on the same package Tuesday. The budget does not include the $2 billion in concessions Malloy is negotiating with the state labor unions, but legislative leaders said they expect to return to vote on those concessions once they come to fruition.