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Latest News - June 2015

May 28, 2015
Labor-Backed Mayor Accused of Union-Busting

A second union that backed Mayor Toni Harp’s election has publicly taken her on, this time accusing her of seeking to “break up” a local she helped found.

The latest accusation comes from Cherlyn Poindexter, president of AFSCME Local 3144, which represents city government management workers.

Poindexter’s union is gearing up to fight the Harp administration in upcoming arbitration hearings over a petition City Hall filed with the State Labor Relations Council. The petition seeks to have the board “clarify” whether or not all the union’s “approximately 409” positions (latest adjusted census: 393) “appropriately” belong in Local 3144.

The hearings will take place as the city and Local 3144 begin trying to negotiate a new contract. The current contract expires June 30.

“The City’s intent with this petition is to break up AFSCME Local 3144 by ‘carving out’ a significant number of our union members and placing them in another bargaining unit,” Poindexter wrote in a letter mailed to members earlier this month.

Poindexter noted that, as a city employee, Harp once helped found Local 3144. “[T]his petition could destroy the same union that has been a strong voice for generations of New Haven public workers.”

In an interview Wednesday, Poindexter argued that the city is targeting Local 3144 because “we fight more for our workers. We don’t let them do whatever they want. We fight for our workers.”

Harp Wednesday responded that she is “absolutely not” seeking to bust the union. She said she supports the idea of workers being represented by a union. Her administration is arguing that many of Local 3144’s members aren’t managers, so they shouldn’t belong to a manger’s union.

Mayor Harp, who is running for reelection, won her first term in 2013 with the backing of Yale and city government unions, including the police union and AFSCME. Some critics suggested that she would fail to act independently of labor as mayor.

This March 27, the police union crashed a mayoral press conference to protest Harp’s handling of the case of a police officer shown in a viral video slamming a handcuffed 15-year-old girl to the ground. “New mayor! New chief!” chanted the union protestors.

Poindexter said Harp is reviving a tactic used by her predecessor, John DeStefano, whose administration twice filed similar petitions. The DeStefano administration subsequently withdrew the petitions as part of negotiated contract settlements.

Marcus Paca, Harp’s labor relations director, characterized the latest petition as part of the administration’s “broad-based initiative to improve efficiencies within all city departments and among all city workers.”

The petition was filed by Floyd Dugas, a private attorney whom the city hires on contract to deal with city unions.

“Frankly, it’s something we should have seen through at the time,” Dugas said of the past decisions to drop the petitions.

Workers should not belong to the same unions as their supervisors, Dugas argued. He said that creates conflicts, for instance, when disciplinary cases arise.

“Under the law a supervisors’ union is only supposed to have supervisors or professional employees in it,” Dugas said. “This bargaining unit has many, many employees who are not supervisors.”

He offered as examples an “events coordinator, CAD [computer-aided design] technician, AIDS prevention outreach worker, paralegal, receivable collector and park ranger.”

Poindexter called those reasons “sugarcoating” for a bid to bust the union.

City management, not the union, originally classified all those positions as Local 3144 jobs, Poindexter said. She noted that just this week the city sought, and received, approval from the Civil Service Commission Tuesday for a revision in the job description of a technical compliance officer. (She’s pictured at that meeting, at center in the above photo.) The revised job description places the position in the Local 3144 bargaining unit — the same union to which the position’s supervisor belongs. She also questioned why the city didn’t single out the positions, such as park rangers, that have supervisors in the union, rather than seeking to have all the approximately 400 jobs reconsidered.

“They can call it whatever they want,” Poindexter said. She calls it union-busting.



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