An officer with Connecticut’s second largest teacher’s union for the past 35 years, Sharon Palmer accepted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s challenge to head the state’s Department of Labor as its commissioner.
At a press conference announcing Palmer’s appointment, Malloy said he asked his chief of staff to reach out to Palmer and see if she was interested in the job, which became vacant after Glenn Marshall, a longtime construction union leader, resigned citing “personal family matters” at the end of June.
“We sat down a week or so ago and this day has come,” Malloy said in a matter-of-fact manner describing how he went about the process of choosing his second labor commissioner.
Malloy acknowledged the two may have banged heads recently during a legislative debate over how to reform the state’s education system, but they still have a mutual respect for each other.
“Oh, hell I bang heads with everybody,” Malloy admitted as Palmer laughed..
But it was about more of what they had in common than their differences.
“Every discussion I ever had with her whether it was around politics, or the closure of Wright Tech, or the future of the vo-tech high schools in our state, or the organization of nurses, or the rights and responsibilities employers have to employees, more often than not we’ve been in agreement,” Malloy said.
“I also like people who work hard,” Malloy said. “I don’t hide that fact, I honor hard work above most other things.”
The large crowd of labor leaders and other state agency commissioners who attended the press conference is a testament to her hard work, Malloy said.
Palmer, who sped into the press conference on her trademark scooter to a round of applause, admitted that she didn’t even know if she wanted the job when she was first approached.
“It’s certainly not something I expected or a job I thought I would be undertaking at this stage in my life, but it’s a wonderful challenge and a wonderful opportunity,” Palmer said.
Labor officials said it was a bittersweet to see Palmer move on from her post with AFT Connecticut and the AFL-CIO’s executive board.
A former junior high school math and science teacher, Palmer has not been shy about her support of the labor movement in Connecticut and nationally.
“She is a staunch advocate for working people and serves on a number of different boards, commissions, task forces, and committees; most with ties to labor, progressive politics, and the ideals and beliefs for which Sharon has spent most of her life working,” Palmer’s biography on the AFT CT website says.
She also sparred with the Malloy administration over teacher tenure requirements during the education reform debate this past legislative session, but she was less public about her opposition than the leadership at the Connecticut Education Association.
When Malloy first appointed Marshall as his first labor commissioner he also announced the selection of Dennis Murphy as the deputy commissioner. At the time Malloy said he picked Murphy, who is a neutral labor arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, for his credentials in management.
Murphy stepped up as acting commissioner after Marshall’s departure. He will remain in his position as deputy commissioner.