July 29, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The unions boycotting the Connecticut Convention Center and its adjacent Marriott hotel have temporarily suspended their boycott as part of an agreement for a "cooling-off period" called for by the mayor.
While the unions Friday called the boycott a success in demonstrating that Adriaen's Landing couldn't succeed under the "cloud of a labor dispute," center and hotel officials disagreed, saying the real victims of the boycott were the city's image and the workers who lost wages as business fled the two facilities.
Nevertheless, everyone welcomed the temporary end to what Mayor Eddie A. Perez called "a no-win situation for all involved." The unions agreed to stop the boycott that has forced the relocation of at least one major event until a state judge rules whether the city's labor laws - which go beyond federal labor laws and force an agreement between labor and management - apply. If the unions don't like the judge's ruling, the boycott could be reinstated, they said.
The temporary halt to the boycott doesn't take the pressure off city boosters who are trying to book long-term conventions. Just because there isn't a boycott now doesn't mean there won't be one in the future, said H. Scott Phelps, head of the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Certainly meeting planners are going to be keeping an eye on this," Phelps said. "They're not going to consider it resolved."
Unite Here! and Service Employees International Union called for a boycott of the center and the hotel in May, saying that they could not come to terms with management on how best to bring an employee vote on unionization.
The Waterford Group, which manages the convention center for the state and operates the hotel, has long said it would support a non-coercive, secret-ballot election supervised by the federal government.
But the unions - which haven't publicly suggested an alternative - believe that the standard, secret-ballot elections on unionization as outlined under federal law often open the door to unnecessary contention. Unite Here! would represent employees at the hotel and the food service workers at the convention center; SEIU would represent janitors at the center.
Since the boycott's inception, 14 groups have either canceled their events or decided against using the center and the hotel, the union says. But of them, at least 12 were to be hosted by local or state associations - the kinds of events that don't bring major out-of-town business to the city and its hotels. The one major convention that relocated out of the convention center and hotel - the 2007 national convention of the United Church of Christ - took advantage of a state-funded bailout to move its events to the nearby Civic Center and keep its event in Hartford.
So although Unite Here! Spokesman Antony Dugdale says "we've made our point; the community has shown that they're not going to reward bad behavior on the part of the convention center and hotel," Waterford and state officials say their business is doing fine. It's the employees and the city that are losing out.
Len Wolman, head of the Waterford Group, said he was pleased with Perez's initiative, encouraged by the tone of the mayor's letter, and, nevertheless, optimistic that his company will win in court. In his written response to Perez's Wednesday letter calling for the end to the boycott, Wolman also said he would be happy to stop the "anti-union" activity that Perez alleged in the letter calling for the end to the boycott - specifically because he and his company never engaged in it.
City council President John V. Bazzano welcomed the news and said the boycott was a losing proposition.
"Obviously, the plan was to try to force the folks at Waterford's hand," Bazzano said. "But they're digging in, the city's digging in, and nobody's benefiting. It's hurting the city of Hartford, it's hurting the people that work at the convention center."
Pete Pusztai, an engineer at the convention center, arrived at the city hall steps Friday just as the unions were wrapping up their press conference on the boycott.
"You're basically strangling our income," Pusztai told union organizers, adding that no one he knows has asked to unionize. "Why would we want to join a union that wants to choke us into submission to let you in? You're not the union I want."
Pusztai complained about the negative effect of the boycott on workers. Dugdale said that he should be happy that now is the time for "cooling off."
"The thing is," Pusztai said, "we were never hot."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at