April 26 - May 3, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
On a sunny morning last August, Mayor Eddie Perez and representatives from the Waterford Group joined to cut the ribbon for the new Marriott Hotel at Adriaen’s Landing.
On a rainy afternoon last Saturday, April 22, Perez spoke at a labor rally in front of Adriaen’s Landing and called on the Waterford Group to come to a “labor peace” agreement with its employees at the Marriott Hotel or face the consequences.
Those consequences, as outlined by Perez and other speakers at the rally, include the possible termination of the tax agreement the City currently has with the Waterford Group and also a boycott of the Convention Center.
The Democratic Party is scheduled to hold its state convention at the CT Convention Center on May 20 this year but may move it to the University of Hartford if the dispute between the unions and the Waterford Group is not settled. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Democrats had still not made a decision on where they will hold the convention, according to Justin Cronholm, Executive Director of the CT Democratic Party.
According to a release from Local 217-UNITE HERE, in a “labor peace” agreement, the unions promise not to hold strikes, picket lines or other job actions. In exchange, the employer agrees to give the unions a free hand in organizing its workers if they so desire.
“We held the rally so that the Wolmans would sit down with us. Hopefully that will happen and we’ll go from there,” said Earl Baskerville, President of Local 21-UNITE HERE, referring to Len Wolman, Chief Executive Officer of the Waterford Group, and Mark Wolman, Director of the Waterford Group. The Waterford Group manages both the Marriott Hotel and the CT Convention Center at Adriaen’s Landing.
Len Wolman said that “If our employees want to form a union that’s their right...It’s their decision, not our’s, not the politicians’, not the mayor’s.” He added, “We’ve been doing business here since 1999. It’s never been an issue here and it’s not an issue now. This is all being driven by those on the outside.”
Speakers at the rally also called on the Waterford Group to comply with the City of Hartford’s Living Wage ordinance as part of its tax deal. That deal could be worth between $15 to $30 million over the next 15 years.
Wolman said compliance with the Living Wage ordinance was not part of the tax agreement he signed.
Matt Hennessy, Chief of Staff for Mayor Perez, said the Living Wage Ordinance is city law and must be complied with, whether it was specifically mentioned in the tax agreement or not.
Hartford’s Living Wage Ordinance calls for employers to pay their employees at least 110 percent of the Federal poverty level for a family of four. It also calls upon the employer to provide comprehensive health benefits at a cost of no more than three percent of the employee’s annual wages. (The employer can also pay the employee additional wages to cover the cost of health insurance).
Wolman also said that a recent decision announced by State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, State Senate President Donald Williams, Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney did not approve or disprove Hartford’s claim concerning the Living Wage ordinance.
In a release from Blumenthal, Williams and Looney, dated April 17, it is stated that “state law presents no barrier to the City of Hartford applying its Living Wage Ordinance to the operations of the Marriott Hartford Downtown Hotel at Adriaen’s Landing.” However, the release also specifically states, “The opinion expresses no view – since none was asked – as to whether or how the ordinance applies to hotel operations.”
In the same release, Looney states, “This is a very important issue as it pertains to the rights of workers in the City of Hartford. This enlightened ordinance allows workers to be compensated at a level that will allow them to continue to support their families.”
Wolman stressed the positives of his company’s operations in Hartford, saying that it had created 800 new jobs in the past year, 34 percent of which went to city residents.