June 6, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The union trying to organize workers at the Connecticut Convention Center and adjacent Marriott Hotel has agreed to call off its protests for a week, a move intended as a peace offering that would pave the way for a meeting.
"Let's meet halfway; let's figure out how we can get together and not just engage in confrontation," said Antony Dugdale, a spokesman for the union Unite Here! The union also called for a "democratic decision" on unionization. "The goal is to make a gesture to have a cooling-off period for us to be able to get together and talk."
But Len Wolman, head of the Waterford Group, which operates the convention center and hotel, at the heart of Adriaen's Landing, said the letter did not go far enough to address his concerns.
"We started a process ... where we called for an election," Wolman said. "If the union really wants to settle this question once and for all, we would suggest that they support that position, because the process is already in place."
The labor issue in question is all about process: How will the workers decide on whether to unionize.
Waterford has argued that federal labor laws that outline the process for an election are sufficient.
Unite Here!, believing that federal labor laws are insufficient and don't adequately protect workers' rights, has pushed for a "labor peace" agreement. Such an agreement would ensure greater protections for the workers during an organizing campaign in exchange for a promise from the union that it would not picket, boycott or protest.
Last week, Mayor Eddie A. Perez attempted to call a meeting of all the parties involved to mediate the dispute that has already chased one major convention away from the convention center and hotel. The United Church of Christ has decided to move its 2007 annual synod from the convention center to the aging Civic Center, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
But Perez's call for a meeting was stymied when the head of the state's Capital City Economic Development Authority, which owns the convention center, said he wouldn't be able to make it. It was stymied again when Wolman, whose company owns the hotel, wrote in a letter that he would only attend a meeting if the union boycott were withdrawn in advance and if he had an assurance that his employees would get to vote on whether to unionize.
On Monday, Unite Here! wrote Wolman a letter attempting to address his concerns. First, it suspended its protests for a week.
Second, while Wolman asked for an assurance that there would be an employee vote on whether to unionize, the union instead committed to "a democratic decision, subject to the majority of opinion of the employees at each facility."
"We need to agree on a process, and then we need to follow it," Steve Mathews, state director of Unite Here!, wrote Wolman. "The rest is details."
But Wolman insists that the process is already agreed upon - it's the National Labor Relations Act. The process it sets out demands an election.
"It's not our decision; it's not the mayor's decision; it's not the union's decision; it is the employees' decision," Wolman said. "It is their rights in question here, and we will not enter into any process to circumvent those rights."
State and city officials said a meeting had not yet been arranged.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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