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Town, union spar over retaliation, dismissal charges

Updated 4:16 pm, Wednesday, January 15, 2014
  • A union has filed a labor complaint against the Town of New Canaan alleging it retaliated against employees who successfully voted to unionize last month. Photo: Tyler Woods / New Canaan News
    A union has filed a labor complaint against the Town of New Canaan alleging it retaliated against employees who successfully voted to unionize last month. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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A union has filed a labor complaint against the Town of New Canaan alleging it retaliated against employees who successfully voted to unionize last month.

The municipal prohibited practice complaint, which was filed with the state Department of Labor Dec. 23, claims one of those employees has been discharged from his or her position. A town official has denied the allegations.

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees claims the town "interfered with, restrained and coerced employees" in the exercise of their labor rights and "dominated or interfered with the formation, existence or administration of Complainant Union, discharged or otherwise discriminated against an employee or employees."

The complaint was put on hold Jan. 10, according to Bob Parziale, the union's service representative and author of the complaint. An informal hearing that was scheduled for Jan. 16 was postponed while town and union representatives negotiate, according to Parziale and Council 4 spokesman Larry Dorman.

"We're currently having discussions with the town and hoping we can achieve a resolution that's fair to everyone," Dorman said.

In a Dec. 2 special election, 34 town hall employees voted 19-15 in favor of forming a union. The complaint further states that "the town interfered and coerced employees who expressed interest in forming the union by singling them out by imposing discipline up to and including discharge."

In a statement released Wednesday, Personnel Director Cheryl Jones denied the allegations.

"No employee has been fired and we certainly did not discriminate over the union vote," she said. "The union vote was not a surprise in any event as efforts to organize have been going on since 2007 and we have a number of town unions already."

Referring to the complaint, Dorman said the town took actions against those employees.

"People were singled out based on the role they played in forming the union," he said. "Part of what happened included the discharge of an employee."

In her statement, Jones said, "I do not know what Mr. Dorman is talking about. I have never met or spoken to Mr. Dorman. No employee has been fired and we certainly did not discriminate over the union vote."

She called Dorman's statements "completely false."

"As the director of human resources I have worked with unions for eight years," she said. "I feel that I have a good relationship with our union representatives and I do not discriminate against union employees. This is a personnel matter that is completely unrelated to the unionization of employees."

Dorman declined to name any employees involved or comment on the specifics of the complaint "out of respect for the process."

While town and union officials won't discuss which employees are involved or who was discharged, the Board of Selectmen went into an executive session Jan. 7 to discuss a personnel matter "concerning the employment, performance, evaluation, or dismissal" of Pam Lind, the accounts payable coordinator in the Finance Department, according to the agenda.

The draft minutes for the Jan. 7 meeting show that Mallozzi "presented a personnel matter concerning the employment, performance, evaluation, or dismissal of a public officer or employee. He explained that the matter involved the consideration and vote on possible action concerning Town employee Pam Lind. Mr. Mallozzi suggested, because of the nature of this item, that it be discussed in executive session." Lind, Jones, Parziale, Finance Director Dawn Norton, Town Attorney Floyd Dugas and Administrative Officer Tom Stadler were invited to attend the executive session.

After the closed-door discussion, Mallozzi made a motion "to table this personnel matter to a meeting later in January," according to the draft minutes. Selectmen Beth Jones, Nick Williams and Mallozzi approved the motion unanimously, the document shows.

Mallozzi declined to discuss the matter, and Dugas, through Mallozzi, said he would not comment.

Earlier this week, Cheryl Jones said no one from the Finance Department has been discharged. She said she would not discuss whether or not Lind was still working for the town because "it's a personnel matter."

She said, however, that there is someone currently working as accounts payable coordinator and that person is not Lind. "Someone is doing those tasks," Jones said.

Lind, who started working for the Finance Department in February 2003, could not be reached for comment.

The Municipal Employee Labor Relations Act states that an "employer may not discriminate against an employee for joining a union, engaging in an organizational campaign, filing grievances or other protected concerted activity."

According to the complaint, Council 4 is seeking "comprehensive statutory remedy including but not limited to an order to cause Respondent to cease and desist the interfering and coercion of said employee; make the discharged employee whole for any/all losses; and pay to Complainant all costs borne by Complainant in pursuance of this Complaint and compliance therewith."

Cheryl Jones said she was "not aware of any employees that are being targeted or singled out."

"We have a zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind," she said in her statement.

The 34 employees, who soon will be unionized, are from five town buildings and have 24 different job titles, including assistant town clerks, accountants, assistant assessors, administrative assistants, office managers, program directors, parking enforcement officers and accounts payable coordinator. They still are not covered by any collective-bargaining agreements. Dorman said a membership meeting will take place at the end of the month. After that, a contract will be drafted, he said.

In December, Mallozzi said he was "perplexed" by the motivations behind the employees who voted in favor of forming the union. At the time, he noted that those employees had good working conditions, including a pension plan, subsidized health insurance, annual raises, personal and sick days, 11 paid holidays and annual raises.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson