Val Sorrentino, who was employed by the city from 1979-2013, shares this commentary that also appeared in the CT Post declaring there’s more to the story of unions endorsing Mayor Bill Finch. She was Deputy Director of Human Services upon her retirement. Sorrentino, a supporter of Joe Ganim, was Business Manager of LIUNA Local 200 from 1992-2013.
As a former Business Manager of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local 200, for over 20 years, I feel compelled to comment on the recent string of union endorsements for Mayor Bill Finch. I respect the construction and trades unions and I understand that they reap the benefits of the project labor agreements through jobs for their members and dues to their international unions.
However, it is a completely different scenario when your members are City of Bridgeport employees who work directly for the Finch administration. As a union leader for LIUNA Local 200, a public service local whose members all worked for the City of Bridgeport, I saw a concerted effort on the part of the Finch administration to break the unions. I saw many instances of bullying, intimidation and unfair treatment of employees. I saw a Labor Relations Department, controlled by the administration, who exacerbated union problems rather than try to resolve them.
Full disclosure, I myself filed a discrimination complaint against the City of Bridgeport in 2012 after I was mistreated and bullied by Finch appointees while I was enduring a personal health crisis–in end stage renal failure and waiting for a kidney transplant. Actions taken against me during 2012 were cruel, discriminatory and illegal. In my position as union Business Manager, I saw many other employees treated in a similar fashion.
The Office of Labor Relations’ mission, according to the City’s General Fund Budget, includes “resolving grievances and labor relations disputes … handling arbitrations, SLRB hearings and related or similar proceedings.” Since 2007, the Mayor’s Office has clearly controlled the Labor Relations Department. There were instances when a Labor Relations Officer recommended that a case be settled and a representative of the Mayor’s Office would not allow the settlement. That caused the case to be advanced to a higher level, either arbitration or a hearing with the State Labor Relations Board. The City would frequently bring in outside counsel to handle hearings and arbitrations. Often, the cases would unnecessarily drag on for months or years before reaching a resolution. The City would prolong the cases in an effort to spite the employee even though the attorney costs were mounting.
I witnessed the abuse of power by the Labor Relations Department and the Finch administration when they ordered that police officers be pulled off duty to hand-deliver letters to employees who resided in other towns such as Milford, Branford and Roxbury. Instead of sending a certified letter, which was the City’s past practice, police officers were used to scare and intimidate the employees and their families. This was done in routine situations such as for notices of a disciplinary or fact finding hearing. Imagine sending a police officer to deliver a letter out of town all while the City was short 80+ officers!
I saw many employees, including myself, hire personal attorneys and file lawsuits against the City. Again in these instances, the City paid outside counsel to represent them and, after a prolonged amount of time, settled the case with the employees.
This all equated to a waste of time, personnel and taxpayers money.
Treating employees cruelly and creating an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation not only harms the workers, causing loss of productivity, increased sick leave and medical costs, it also results in a significant cost to the taxpayers in outside attorney fees and settlements.
As a contrast …
Joe Ganim’s approach to dealing with the unions was very different. He believed in a more cooperative approach. Under his administration, a labor-management committee was formed to identify and fix problems, to improve services to the public and save money. This created an atmosphere of working together rather than an adversarial relationship as we see under Finch. The committee worked well for 12 years and was responsible for many successful and award-winning projects such as the formation of the Central Grants Office and the “Cash to Trash” program where citizens were paid to clean up blighted areas.
Under Joe Ganim’s administration, a Health Benefits Committee was formed, comprised of union and management, which served as a watch dog to make sure that the cost of employee health benefits were kept under control. It was under the Ganim Administration that the City chose to become self-insured which saved millions of dollars.