News Analysis

NEW HAVEN, CT – Delegates to the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention here showed their commitment to unity in words, deeds and votes as they grappled with changes in the labor movement and sharpening attacks on workers by the Bush administration.

The state federation re-elected all its officers, including those whose unions recently split from the AFL-CIO, in hopes that continuing national negotiations will have positive results.

Brian Petronella, re-elected as General Vice President, is President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, a union which left the AFL-CIO for Change to Win. “I enjoyed the Change to Win convention in St. Louis yesterday,” he said, “ but the bottom line is here in Connecticut, and protecting workers here.”

Speaker after speaker emphasized that every union member can make a difference by letting their national leaders know the labor movement cannot afford to splinter.

Wayne Burrus, international president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 330,000 workers, charged the Bush administration with “pursuing a path of rewarding the wealthy and penalizing the poor.”

“The $5 an hour meat plant worker, the unemployed auto worker, the unorganized Wal-Mart worker is not concerned about a split at the top. They demand of us to represent their interests,” he said.

Warning against “the Bush administration’s objective to take away from workers their strongest supporter, organized labor,” Burrus called upon the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to “ move together as a combined force in the face of mighty capitalism.”

“Connecticut has the highest minimum wage because we have a unified labor movement. I hope that radiates out,” replied Secretary-Treasurer Lori Pelletier, a member of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 700. “On the day that Tom DeLay resigned, we must move forward together.”

Hurricane Katrina “exposed poverty and low wages, in the midst of abundance of wealth,” president John Olsen told the delegates. “The best way to help is through the labor movement’s fight for decent housing, healthcare, jobs, civil rights,” he said calling on the convention to “redouble our efforts to organize.”

Applauding the changes made in the AFL-CIO as a result of the debate, Olsen emphasized the necessity for unity. “We all have the same destination, just different ways to get there.”

Morton Bahr, retired president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) cautioned of the political implications of the split for the 2006 Congressional elections. “If the labor movement is not there to speak for workers no one else will. This big issue submerges any other individual differences,” he said to loud applause.

He appealed to the convention to support a national effort to organize workers at Verizon, a “viciously anti-union” employer. In contrast, 22,000 workers at Cingular won union recognition when a majority of workers signed cards, a method contained in the Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress.

Along with Barr, delegates boarded school buses and traveled in the rain to North Haven for a lunch time picket at a Verizon outlet.

“The New Haven Labor Council has built alliances over the years. We will continue to work together,” said delegate Sirlester Parker, a worker at Yale and member of Local 34 Unite-HERE, a union that left the AFL-CIO.

The convention adopted a wide range of resolutions including support for universal health care, affordable housing, extension of the Voting Rights Act, and for rapid return of US troops from Iraq,

“Is this war patriotic?” asked IAM delegate Bill Shortell. “George Bush treats the Vets like laid off workers,” he said. “This is a corporate war being fought for profits of Exxon and Texaco. I am proud to be in a movement that is against it.”

Western Connecticut Central Labor Council president Blair Bertaccini emphasized that “just as labor has been in front to protect Social Security, for health care and better wages, labor should be in the front against the war.” He pointed out that the war is costing $220 million a day. “I want to be part of a republic, not an empire. End the war now.” he said to applause.

A highlight of the convention was presentation of the Al Casale Community Service Award to
Sandra Cooper, a Regional Vice President of AFSCME Local 196. Her tireless work in the Greater Hartford Labor Council, in her church, and with youth was recognized as co-workers joined her on the stage with flowers. “I thank you for making me the person I am,” said her daughter, Kathleen Jackson who chairs the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

A one day constitutional convention will be held at the end of the year to assess the results of national negotiations between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, and determine their impact on Connecticut.