Scores of state workers carrying signs and chanting “no layoffs” held a rally Thursday a few hundred yards away from the Connecticut Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner.
The Connecticut AFL-CIO, Council 4 AFSCME union members, and their allies with D.U.E Justice — A Coalition for Democracy, Unity, and Equality — and others rallied, sang, chanted, and encouraged passing cars to honk their horns in support outside the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier, who marched with others, said the rally was being held, “Simply, because this is a very bad budget.”
“It is a bad budget for the people who have been laid off, for those who will be laid off, for the middle class, bad for communities, bad for everyone,” Pelletier said.
Another participant at the rally, Ann Pratt, an organizer with the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said the people standing outside the convention center had an important message for those walking past them and into the fundraising dinner.
“We want to let elected leaders know this budget doesn’t work,” Pratt said. “Our economy works best when people are employed.”
Both Pratt and Pelletier added it was important that the rally was held at a Democratic function because it’s the Democrats who control the legislature and the governor’s office.
The rally, according to Sal Luciano, executive director of Council 4 AFSCME, was scheduled to “show legislators we won’t stand by and allow their state budget to wreck Connecticut’s quality of life.”
Luciano said Friday that “legislators who supported the recently passed, job-killing state budget need to know that the service cuts and layoffs it will cause hurt all working families. And they need to know it’s time to do what’s right by restoring taxes on the rich.”
Tickets at Thursday’s dinner started at $185 per plate. The event is the party’s largest fundraising event of the year and usually raises more than $200,000.
Last week, Pelletier told the heads of Connecticut’s labor unions to hold off on purchasing tickets to the dinner.
“We’re going to support candidates who support working families,” Pelletier said. “We’re asking, if they have not contributed, to wait and invest in our own labor movement.”
But Leigh Appleby, spokesperson for the Democratic Party, said ticket sales for the dinner were “very, very good.”
The ballroom was set up for 850 guests, but not all the tables were full.
Labor solidarity and the unresolved Democratic presidential contest between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders contributed to lower attendance this year.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman acknowledged the protesters in her remarks.
“Everyone here in Connecticut knows Democrats don’t always see eye to eye,” Wyman said. “That’s not a bad thing. We are a large and diverse party and we welcome different points of view and opinions.”
She added, “At the end of the day, it’s going to be the Democrats that move our state forward.”
Wyman reminded the party faithful that Connecticut was the first state to pass legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017. She said the state also embraced the Affordable Care Act and the governor recently signed a bill that would take guns away from those accused of domestic violence.
Appleby, in between greeting guests inside the convention center, said: “We certainly understand where they (the protesters) are coming from. But we are the party that historically has had the best labor relations with unions, most notably in the collective bargaining area . . . The difference between how Democrats and Republicans have treated labor issues, frankly, is night and day.”
The dinner’s main speaker was Jennifer Granholm, the first female ever elected governor in Michigan.
She is currently a CNN political contributor and has been an active supporter of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Granholm focused most of her remarks on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has not released his tax returns. She said Trump doesn’t want to release them because they will show he hasn’t paid any taxes.
“We’ve all been subsidizing Donald Trump,” Granholm said.
Granholm also pointed out the diversity of the Democratic Party, adding that whether you are supporting Clinton or Sanders, “we are clear as Democrats about our values.”
She said the party values workers and work.
“We believe that our diversity makes us exceptional,” Granholm said.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.