Employees at the state-owned Connecticut Convention Center voted this week to join ranks with the Connecticut Laborers' District Council, union and convention center officials said.
The move comes as a labor struggle continues to simmer at the Marriott Hotel next door, with Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the hotel workers' union on one side and the Waterford Group, the hotel's owner, on the other.
But while hotel workers' union officials have long said they feared a secret-ballot process that could leave employees open to intimidation, the laborers say their election Thursday was fair and free.
"It was wonderful," said laborers' union official Charles LeConche. "As far as the facility themselves trying to intimidate the workers in any way during that process, no way. We never had one incident happen during our efforts to ... get that unit organized."
LeConche said that 46 employees eligible to join the union - from servers to cooks to set-up workers to engineers - work at the convention center. In the Thursday vote, 24 went for the union and eight voted against.
Len Wolman, head of the Waterford Group, which also runs the convention center, said that his goal has long been a secret ballot election. "It is up to the associates and employees to choose what they want to do, whether they want to affiliate and who they want to affiliate with," Wolman said Friday. "Our biggest assets are our employees."
The process at the hotel has been more acrimonious. Labor tensions there boiled over in the summer of 2006. Two other unions had called for boycotts because they could not come to terms with Waterford on how best to bring an employee vote on unionization.
Steve Matthews, the Connecticut director of Unite Here, a national union representing hotel, casino and other workers, was not pleased about the convention center vote.
"They're clearly playing favorites," Matthews said, referring to the Waterford Group. "The fact that they're treating unions differently, we want to know why. We think this is a suspicious situation."
LeConche bristled at the suggestion that he got special treatment, and said he didn't understand why Unite Here was having such trouble at the hotel.
"I'm not there to satisfy any other union, I'm not there to back off for any other union, I'm not there to make the Wolmans happy," LeConche said. "Nobody owns me, and nobody ever did."
And although he's not organizing employees at the Marriott yet, he said that "once this hits the papers, my phones are going to ring."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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