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Lamont gets unexpected credit for labor deal at CT AFL-CIO convention

Written by on June 23, 2022

Did Gov. Ned Lamont and the U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh play unheralded roles in resolving a contract dispute and averting further labor actions by bus drivers in Connecticut who already had staged a sick out?

That was a suggestion Thursday as Lamont glided through a public interview for a reelection endorsement by the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention, a reflection of what organized labor sees as an obvious choice between an incumbent Democrat and a Republican challenger who declined to participate.

Lamont navigated a careful path in responding to 47 written questions posed prior to the public interview, offering noncommittal or negative answers on 10 items — most notably rejecting a surcharge on capital gains and a higher income tax on the wealthiest 1% sought by unions.

  • Clayton Smith, of Middletown, a delegate of IAM Lodge 700, which represents employees in aerospace manufacturing. Yehyun Kim
  • “When I think about unions, I think about families. I think about support. I think about unity,” said Jeanette Morrison, a delegate of AFSCME Local 2663 that represents social and human service employees. “All these various things bring people together collectively for one voice to ensure that fairness happens for all people.” Yehyun Kim
  • Stuart Beckford, left, and Corey Moses, of Hartford, are delegates of American Federation of Teachers Local 1018. “We’re advocating for safe conditions for all of our workers — a living wage for everyone,” Beckford said. Yehyun Kim
  • Eva Gardner, left, and Joan Levy are delegates of American Postal Workers Union, which represents the people inside the post offices, including custodians and maintenance workers. “Sometimes you fight just to make things a little better,” Gardner said. Yehyun Kim
  • Mustafa Salahuddin, a delegate of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1336, worked as a transit operator at night while working as a police officer during the day for 25 years. “I like working with people,” Salahuddin said. “When you’re a bus operator, that’s all you come in contact with — the public, day in and day out.” Yehyun Kim
  • “Right now, they’re not paying us a living wage. It’s hard to retain paras with the salary that they’re giving us,” Marta Shepard, left, said. Marta Shepard and Yokasty Thomas are paraeducators and delegates of Hartford Federation of Paraeducators AFT Local 2221. Yehyun Kim
  • “As a leader in my union, I wanted to come here to show my solidarity, and we have strength all together,” said Sherri Dayton, a nurse and delegate of Backus Federation of Nurses of Norwich. Yehyun Kim

But labor delegates gathered at Foxwoods Resort Casino overlooked those differences, instead applauding his support for raises for state employees, a law committing Connecticut to a $15 minimum wage next year, and a ban on “captive audience” meetings that unions say are used to thwart organizing.

One delegate, Veronica V. Chavers, the president and business agent of Local 443 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, unexpectedly pulled back the curtain on the Biden administration’s and Lamont campaign’s interest in resolving a contract dispute with about 1,200 transit workers in Connecticut.

She credited the involvement of Dave Roche, a retired building trades leader who works for Lamont’s campaign as a liaison to labor, for helping break a stalemate in contract negotiations with H.N.S., the company that manages CT Transit buses in the Hartford, New Haven and Stamford regions for the state DOT.

Exactly what Roche did, other than urging that talks continue, was unclear. Roche said he did nothing other than convey a desire that a deal be struck, given the assessment that both sides were close.

When asked about how a campaign aide came to even be peripherally involved in contract talks, Lamont then made the story more interesting by revealing the interest of the Biden administration, or at least its labor secretary.

Lamont said he did not directly intervene in the talks involving H.N.S., the DOT and the union, other than signaling his interest in a deal after fielding a call a week ago about the contract from Walsh, the former mayor of Boston.

“I got a call from Washington saying, ‘This is something very important, and I think we were very close in terms of where we’re going to be on that,’” Lamont said, recalling the call from Walsh. “And I didn’t weigh in, but I said, ‘I’ll introduce you to the person over at DOT that’s responsible for this. And let’s see if we can make a deal.’ I like to make a deal. We got a deal done. And Marty Walsh was very happy with the result.”

The regional spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor could not immediately be reached for comment as to how Walsh came to be personally interested in the Connecticut transit talks. Lamont and Chavers assume he was nudged by ATU officials in Washington.

“Obviously they had gotten, I think, some calls from affected members,” Lamont said. “And he felt we were so close. ‘Why was there a roadblock now?’ And I said, ‘I have no idea. But I’m going to find out.’”

Chavers said in an interview that a 16-hour negotiating session last week produced a three-year deal for raises of 3%, 3.2% and 3.5% for ATU workers. Separately, she said, the DOT has agreed to $3,500 in hazard pay rewarding bus drivers who stayed on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So, the bus drivers are very happy,” Chavers said.

A formal vote on endorsements, which requires support from two-thirds of delegates, will come Friday.

The audience applauds after Stephen Wierbicki, delegate with AFSCME Local 269, spoke at the 14th biennial political convention. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

There is little doubt of Lamont’s endorsement.

“The governor was brave enough to come, step up to a microphone and answer tough questions,” said Ed Hawthorne, the president of the labor federation. “His opponent chose not to.”

Republican Bob Stefanowski, who did not seek the labor endorsement, said he is not completing any endorsement questionnaires.

Lamont, for his part, answered “no” on several questions asking for a commitment to legislation on various topics, including establishing a public option for health care and a “low-wage employer fee” on companies whose employees qualify for public assistance.

“While I will not commit to individual pieces of legislation absent specific language, I am proud of my record supporting Connecticut’s labor unions, including the recent passage of An Act Protecting Employee Freedom of Speech and Conscience,” Lamont replied in his questionnaire.

Gov. Ned Lamont answers a question during the gubernatorial candidate interview. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The bill he references is the formal name of the captive audience bill, which Hawthorne had praised to delegates before Lamont’s arrival.

“Make no mistake, this bill is a game-changer for our movement,” Hawthorne said.

The toughest questions to Lamont came from members of unions that complained of understaffing in state agencies, primarily in health care, and those awaiting promised pandemic hazard pay, a reward for frontline workers who braved exposure to COVID-19.

Lamont said the administration was trying to fill those jobs and promised that the hazard pay was coming.

No one asked him about his pollster, Global Strategy Group, a Democratic consulting firm under attack for helping Amazon fight union organizing. The firm has apologized and dropped Amazon as a client.

The issue was raised in the questionnaire.

“When we became aware of Global’s work for Amazon, we had conversations internally and with GSG,” Lamont replied. “While we are disappointed, we are satisfied by the work Global has done in the days since to sign on to new labor standards for Democratic consultants. As a strong supporter of labor unions, I will not work with any consultant that does not agree to these standards.”

Participants at the AFL-CIO convention listen to a candidate interview. Candidates of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer had interview sessions with the participants. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Lamont told the delegates that no one should doubt his commitment to labor’s right to organize or his opposition to anti-labor right-to-work laws — or his willingness to support good wages, including those in a deal recently awarded to state employees.

“I want you to know I’m sticking with you. I’m fighting with you. I think you know who I am. I think you know where my heart is. I think you know where my commitments are,” Lamont said. “I keep my word. You kept your word to us. I’m keeping my word to you.  God bless y’all.”

Somewhere in the crowd, a delegate yelled, “We love you.”


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