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Labor Talks End With Hope

June 16, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

A closed-door summit Thursday called to address labor unrest at the Connecticut Convention Center and adjacent hotel ended with optimism but no resolution, meaning discussions will continue - but so will a month-old union boycott.

"Significant progress was made in the sense that discussions are going to continue," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who called the meeting. "They're staying at the table, and that's a good sign."

Representatives from the state, two unions, and the Waterford Group - which runs the convention center and the adjacent Marriott Hotel - declined to comment on the substance of the meeting.

Meanwhile, as representatives of the two unions involved in the conflict - Unite Here! and Service Employees International Union - met at city hall, a third union said Thursday that it is interested in unionizing employees at the convention center.

"We have the Hartford Civic Center, and so we feel that the convention center would be a good fit," said Sal Luciano, head of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 4, which represents Hartford municipal workers.

Luciano said members of his union have been approached by convention center employees seeking representation.

"We don't really want to get in the middle of a war with other unions, so what I've done is ask [Unite Here! and SEIU] to sit down [with us] and see what makes sense." A meeting initially planned for May was postponed.

The labor issue at the heart of the dispute is not so much about wages or working conditions, but about the rules that govern the process: How will workers decide whether to unionize?

Unite Here! believes federal labor laws are insufficient and don't adequately protect workers' rights and is pushing for a "labor peace" agreement. The union argues such an agreement would ensure greater protection for workers during an organizing campaign, in exchange for a promise from the union that it would not picket, boycott or protest.

But Len Wolman, head of the Waterford Group, and his company have argued federal labor laws that outline the process for an election are the fairest way for employees to decide whether they should unionize. Wolman has asked for a union election, said his company would not interfere in the process and pledged he would respect the decision of the employees.

Although Perez is now stepping into the role of peacemaker by inviting everyone to the table, he is also a party to the dispute. Arguing that city ordinances require Waterford to sign a "labor peace" agreement with the unions because the project was built with city funds, the city has threatened to revoke a $30 million tax deal from Waterford in the absence of such an agreement.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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