A group of New Canaan Town Hall employees voted to unionize on Monday, bringing union representation to 34 employees across 24 job titles, associates of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) confirmed Tuesday morning.
According to Larry Dorman, spokesman for the AFSCME Council 4, the group of employees, who had voted down the idea to unionize with the group just six years ago, took another close vote that passed Monday.
"We're happy they decided to join us and look forward to representing their interests on the job and at the bargaining table," Dorman said. "[...] Six years ago, it was an extremely close vote in the other direction. We maintained contact with those members, were all very patient, and this time we were able to receive a positive response [...] It was a very close vote, but a victory nonetheless."
A number of new job titles are now encompassed in the union, which already represents the New Canaan Public Works and Board of Education custodians. Dorman and Council 4 Service Representative Bob Parziale, who helped spearhead the organizational efforts on behalf of the Council, said the main concern for the push was about respect and fair treatment on the job.
"The overall consensus was that the discussion was not about wages or benefits," Parziale said. "It was about respect and job security. Town Hall employees felt they needed more respect on the job."
New Canaan Town Hall employees who work more than 20 hours a week will be covered by the union, and included titles like police department custodians, administrative assistants, office managers, accounts payable employees, receptionists, assistant town clerks and a plethora of other titles at locations like Irwin Park, the Stewarts Market Town Hall location, Vine Cottage, the Police Department Town Hall location and the Recreation Department.
Parziale said the discussions with the town went amicably, with no animosity toward the decision from the town's side. The union listed Floyd Dugas as the legal representation handling the organizational efforts on the town's end.
"Everyone wants to be treated equally, across the board," Parziale said. "There needs to be respect amongst management and workers. Any number of people I encountered just wanted everyone to be treated equal and not fear for their jobs because they're at-will employees."
Neither of the AFSCME representatives pointed to a particular case or instance that spurred the decision or the concerns. There was also no work yet on what a potential contract might look like, as Parziale said officer elections would probably be delayed until after the holidays, followed by putting together proposals and "hammering out a contract."
Since contract details have yet to be established, there's no way to know how this might affect New Canaan tax payers, if at all. Increases in employee benefits, contracts or wages remain unknown factors.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III offered input on the situation Tuesday afternoon, stating he was aware the unionization efforts had been been taking place and that the town will do everything it can to work out new contracts during the transition.
"I was certainly aware of the ongoing discussion to form a union amongst some of our employees and, after an extremely close vote, the union will be representing some of our employees here in Town Hall," Mallozzi said. "Whatever reasons they have for wanting a union to represent them are for them to understand and we will begin negotiating with the new union just as we have with the police, fire and public works departments' unions."
Mallozzi said he expects a "respectful dialogue with give-and-take as we craft a new contract with these employees"
Mallozzi said town employees are only at-will for the first six-month probationary period and, following that point, can not be let go at-will, so he was uncertain of how the unionization planned on affecting the current practices and procedures.
"I do want to go on the record and say that I respect all our town employees," he said.
New Canaan Personnel Director Cheryl Pickering Jones and Dugas were not immediately available comment Tuesday morning, but the story will be updated with any additional comments.
The AFSCME represents 32,000 workers across Connecticut and is fairly evenly divided amongst state and town employees, Dorman said, and also pointed out the New Canaan unit would be somewhat autonomously functioning following leadership establishment.