Hugh McQuaid photo
Connecticut AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Lori Pelletier defended the union’s decision to hear from only major party candidates Monday as third-party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto bemoaned being shut out of the group’s convention.

Labor delegates heard a campaign pitch Monday from Republican Tom Foley and were scheduled to hear from Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy later that afternoon. The union is expected to endorse a candidate Tuesday.

Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker and critic of Malloy, is collecting petitions to appear on the ballot in November under the newly-created Education and Democracy Party. He issued a press release Monday touting his labor credentials and expressing disappointment that union leaders did not respond to his requests to address the group.

“While I appreciate that reasonable people can disagree when it comes to politics and a number of union leaders have already committed to Malloy, the AFL-CIO leadership’s decision to refuse to allow me to speak to the delegates responsible for endorsing a candidate for governor is insulting and flies in the face of the democratic principles that are purported to be among the core values of unions,” he said.

Pelletier told reporters she was comfortable inviting only major party candidates.

“The reality is I don’t like that we have a two party system. I wish it was different. But the playing field is what it is. The fact is, it’s going to be a major party that wins. Until that changes, we have some change in that electorate, then I am perfectly comfortable with how we decided to invite the candidates to come to this convention,” she said.

Pelletier said she spoke with Pelto at length before he announced his candidacy. Although he asked about third party candidates, she said the former lawmaker never mentioned he was going to run as one.

Pelletier said she told Pelto that a third-party candidate would be a spoiler in this year’s election.

“I said ‘Third parties don’t work. You’re going to be a spoiler. Ross Perot was a spoiler for Herbert Walker Bush. Ralph Nader was a spoiler for Al Gore. You’re going to be a spoiler. My members don’t need a spoiler. My members need someone in the governor’s office that respects collective bargaining,’” she said.

When Pelto began exploring a third party run, he said he would not become an official candidate unless he determined he could be a viable candidate and not just spoil the race for Malloy, who won a narrow election in 2010.

However, Pelto made an official announcement last week, cutting the exploratory period short so he could be considered for an endorsement by the state’s labor unions and advocacy groups. So far, the Connecticut chapters of the American Federation of Teacher and the United Auto Workers have endorsed Malloy.

He said AFL-CIO’s decision not let him speak was “unfair and undemocratic.”

“I am an announced and active candidate for governor. I am a life-long supporter of unions and the rights of workers to collectively bargain. I retired from the Connecticut General Assembly with one of the highest AFL-CIO COPE ratings of any legislator and a long record of fighting for the rights of workers,” he said. “Both my parents were members of Connecticut unions and I, myself, was a member of OPEIU during former Congressman Sam Gejdenson’s first campaign . . . The decision to prevent me from addressing the union delegates is simply unfair and undemocratic.”