Latinos Angry Over Loss Of Hillary Clinton As Speaker
May 21, 2006
By PENELOPE OVERTON, And MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writers
Leaders of a statewide Latino advocacy group are calling for the ouster of a regional union president after a labor dispute scared away headline speaker Hillary Rodham Clinton from the group's 30th anniversary gala in Hartford on Saturday night.
Members of the Connecticut Association for United Spanish Action say the political action organized by a dozen Hartford-area trade unions against ING Financial Services cost them the services of the U.S. senator from New York and thousands of dollars in corporate sponsorship.
Under pressure from the unions, ING withdrew its corporate sponsorship of the event and CAUSA returned the $40,000 sponsor check to the financial services firm. Another U.S. senator, Connecticut's Chris Dodd, who was to have been honored at the gala, also refused to attend.
Angry Latino leaders predicted this "guerrilla attack" would cost the labor unions more.
"At best, this is political stupidity," said Calixto Torres, a Hartford city councilman and the leader of one of the community groups that belong to CAUSA. "At worst, it is racial bigotry. Well, this won't be forgotten. We've been stabbed in the back by someone we thought was a friend."
CAUSA wants its friends to refuse to accept any political donation from the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Construction Trades Council.
Ed Vargas, a CAUSA member and the labor adviser to Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said CAUSA will only be satisfied when Charles LeConche, president of trades council, steps aside.
"He has no choice but to step down," a tuxedoed Vargas said. "We are the fastest-growing segment of the working class. If we don't join the unions, the unions are dead. If they wanted a war, that's what they've got. We're calling on all our friends to remember what has happened."
"They're ripped about nothing," LeConche said. "I'm going to step down when I die and they put me in a hole, that's when I'm going to step down. I've been representing those people for 40 years. I represent half the people at that gala tonight. I've gotten jobs for them, their friends, their families. We're their best friend. They better not turn a best friend into their worst enemy."
Labor leaders say that their beef is with ING, not CAUSA, and that is why the unions opted against picketing in front of the Hartford Civic Center during the gala, which attracted about 1,000 people. Instead, more than 200 union workers demonstrated before the gala began.
Joseph Toner, a business agent for Iron Workers Union Local 15, said the unions had no problem with CAUSA, which had already moved the black-tie dinner and dance from the Connecticut Convention Center because of union issues there.
"Are feelings going to get hurt? Yeah," Toner said. "But we're trying to expose a bad apple."
They then moved a few blocks down to the ING headquarters on Asylum Avenue and did a full-blown picket line. Union leaders offered to pay CAUSA the lost ING money, but as of Saturday night, CAUSA leaders said they would not take union money.
The labor council is locked in a bitter dispute with ING over contracts for ING's new $100 million headquarters in Windsor. Union leaders said CAUSA did not respond to demands that it disavow further involvement with ING and to help force the company into negotiations with unions.
Clinton withdrew Friday as the featured speaker at the dinner when it became apparent the disagreement could not be settled. At that time, the unions planned to set a picket line up in front of the Civic Center that guests would have had to cross to attend.
One reason the unions did not back off is that Kathleen Murphy, the chief ING executive in Hartford, was still scheduled to attend the event, according to Toner. He said the council will target other business and civic events if Murphy and ING are involved.
LeConche said union leaders want to meet with CAUSA soon to find a remedy to their differences.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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