Hugh McQuaid file photo
David Pickus, president of SEIU 1199NE, testified at a hearing in April (Hugh McQuaid file photo)

A labor ally of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy went on the offensive Friday against Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker who is considering making a third-party challenge for the governor’s office.

So far Malloy’s campaign and the state Democratic Party have had no comment on Pelto, a vocal Malloy critic who is exploring a run for governor under his newly formed Education and Democracy Party.

But SEIU 1199NE President David Pickus weighed in on Pelto’s record Friday morning with a press release accusing him of siding with former Republican Gov. John Rowland during a 2001 labor dispute. Pelto did consultant work on behalf of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, a nursing home association.

The union charges that Pelto “devised strategies to portray workers as undeserving and greedy.”

“Now as a potential candidate he is seeking support from unions but he had no support for unions in 2001 when he was strategizing against Connecticut workers and aligning himself with disgraced former governor John Rowland. Running for governor is a serious endeavor and it is important to understand who has paid Jonathan Pelto in the past and not just his current rhetoric as a potential candidate,” Pickus said in a statement.

Reached by phone Friday, Pelto dismissed the charges saying the labor dispute was a calculated effort that resulted in more state funding for nursing home workers. He said he is more accustomed to being criticized as a “liberal ideologue” or a “union stooge.”

“Now they’re saying I’m anti-union? It’s so absurd that I’d be embarrassed to put something like that out if I were them,” he said.

CTNJ file photo
Jonathan Pelto (CTNJ file photo)

Pelto said union leaders are likely getting the sense that rank-and-file workers are seeking a more liberal option in the governor’s race. The state’s labor leaders have thrown their support behind Malloy, who the state Democratic Party nominated last week as their endorsed candidate.

“Maybe it’s psychological warfare to try to convince me not to run,” he said.

He later blogged about the statement.

If Pelto were to enter the race, many believe he would tilt the general election in favor of the Republican candidate. Tom Foley, the GOP’s 2010 nominee received the party nomination again on Saturday. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney have both filed paperwork to challenge Foley in a primary.

Malloy defeated Foley by only 6,400 votes in 2010 and recent polling suggests the two candidates are still in a dead heat.

Pelto has said he will only enter the race if he believes he can win enough votes to be a viable candidate and not merely spoil the race for Malloy.

The former state representative, who now runs a blog where he is frequently critical of Malloy and his education policies, says he expects to find support among rank and file union workers, especially public school teachers.