A coalition of Connecticut labor unions may be angry, but they aren’t taking a scorched earth approach to endorsing members of the General Assembly who voted in favor of a budget that cuts services and lays off state employees.
Instead, the 240 delegates to the annual AFL-CIO convention decided to send a letter to 11 state senators and representatives seeking re-election to let them know they were unhappy with their budget vote, but were still endorsing their overall record as it pertains to labor.
“We don’t want them to think we forgot about the budget,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said.
The convention ended up endorsing four Democratic state Senators: Terry Gerratana of New Britain, Gary Winfield of New Haven, Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden, and Cathy Osten of Sprague; and seven House members: Reps. Edwin Vargas, Peter Tercyak, Joe Aresimowicz, Toni Walker, Theresa Conroy, Kevin Ryan, and Robyn Porter, who voted in favor of the budget. They also endorsed Reps. Russ Morin and Christine Rosati Randall, who voted against the state budget for what the AFL-CIO said were the “right reasons.”
Pelletier said the committee that decides endorsements has never done this before. She said they discussed the issue for several hours.
“We’re not just endorsing you and saying everything’s fine,” Pelletier said. “Everything isn’t fine. We remember it, but we also understand the big picture.”
Kathy Cooper, an AFSCME staff member and representative to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said she hopes that any lawmaker who received a letter because they voted in favor of the budget doesn’t get any money from the unions.
“We have to let them know, yes we support you, but once you stab us in the back we’re shutting down the checkbook,” Cooper said.
However, some of the more contentious debate on endorsements of General Assembly candidates involved the endorsement of Sharon Palmer, the former labor commissioner who was previously president of AFT Connecticut.
Palmer is running for the 38th House District seat representing Waterford, which is currently held by Rep. Kathleen McCarthy, a Republican finishing up her first term.
Labor members were upset with the August 2015 layoffs of 95 Department of Labor employees.
Stephen Wierbicki, a secretary for the AFSCME local that experienced 61 of the 95 layoffs, said Palmer had choices and could have laid off non-union managers.
“Sharon Palmer laid off frontline workers who helped people who were unemployed,” Wierbicki said.
He said he can’t believe she would run and say she’s a Democrat supporting working families “because when she had choices in the Department of Labor to stand up for workers, stand up for union workers, she failed.”
Others also expressed their discontent with Palmer’s tenure as Labor Commissioner. While they offered respect for her history with the labor movement, one said they thought she had gotten too far away from “the streets” and had forgotten where she came from.
“She turned her back on us and the state of Connecticut,” Xavier Gordon, president of AFSCME Council 4 Local 269, said.
But Palmer also had support.
Janis Bureau, treasurer of the A&R Employees Union, said she has always been a great “laborist.” She said she’s disappointed about what happened at the Department of Labor, “but I also know what a bully Dan Malloy is and how difficult a situation she was in.”
Bureau pointed out that Palmer resigned about two months after the layoffs were handed out.
“I think she felt as conflicted as all of us do about it,” Bureau said.
A vote to strip Palmer’s name from the endorsement and take a vote on it separately failed.
At least one union delegate was also upset with Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz.
Charles DellaRocco, who belongs to AFSCME Council 4 and is a a State Supreme Court police officer, said his union members pay for the salary of Aresimowicz and that’s why he’s opposing his endorsement. Aresimowicz is an education coordinator with AFSCME Council 4 and is expected to become the next Speaker of the House. His ties to the union are expected to be controversial even though he doesn’t believe there’s any conflict.