June 3, 2006
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
The Latino advocacy group whose gala fundraiser last month took a hit when its featured speaker, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, bailed out instead of crossing a picket line has fired back at the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Trades Council.
The Connecticut Association of United Hispanic Agencies, an umbrella group for more than a dozen social service organizations serving the Latino community around the state, is demanding a public apology, financial restitution and an agreement from the union not to involve neutral parties in its disputes in the future.
"This renegade union action has caused severe financial hardship to CAUSA and has sent ripples of fear throughout the nonprofit community in the state," CAUSA Director Carmen Sierra said, in a written statement. "Do all nonprofits now have to ask the unions permission before they accept funds?"
Hartford area trade unions picketed at the 30th anniversary event at the Hartford Civic Center because of a labor dispute between the unions and ING Financial Services, which is building a $100 million headquarters in Windsor.
The unions claimed that not enough of the project is being built with union labor, while ING officials contended that they were committed to using union labor, though not at any cost.
The disagreement led the unions to threaten to picket the CAUSA event, which ING was co-sponsoring. When ING agreed to withdraw its sponsorship and take back a $40,000 contribution, Sierra said, CAUSA was under the impression that it had a deal with the trades council to back away from the planned picket.
"We had an agreement," she said.
But the union didn't back down,and Clinton pulled out.
Sierra said they haven't determined the exact amount of restitution they are seeking from the trades council but added that it would be significantly more then ING's sponsorship money, and would include $30,000 the organization spent to move their event from the Connecticut Convention Center because of sensitivity to ongoing union issues there.
Without an apology, restitution and an agreement not to picket more nonprofit fundraisers, Sierra said the organization would explore legal action based on labor laws prohibiting secondary boycotts.
"We're serious about this," she said.
Charles LeConche, the president of the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Trades Council who led the effort to picket CAUSA's fundraiser, was unavailable for comment.
Regardless of whether LeConche responds to the organization's demands, Ed Vargas, a CAUSA member and the labor adviser to Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, continued to call for his ouster from leadership of the trades council.
"I believe his stepping aside is a fait accompli, whether he knows it or not," Vargas said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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