Malloy to name Palmer of AFT as labor commissioner

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is turning to Sharon Palmer of Waterford, the leader of a teachers’ union that battled the governor over elements of his education reform plan, as his next commissioner of labor.

The Malloy administration, which is set to announce the appointment this afternoon, had no comment. But the choice of Palmer was saluted by John Olsen, the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, in an email he sent to AFL-CIO executive board members.

UPDATE: A onetime foe joins Malloy administration

Palmer is the president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two statewide teachers’ unions. She also sits on the AFL-CIO board.

She succeeds Glenn Marshall, a carpenters’ union official who resigned in July.

In naming Palmer, a former teacher who has been president of AFT Connecticut since 2003, Malloy is making a gesture to a labor constituency that grew hostile to him in his second year as governor. He is breaking with a tradition of tapping the construction trades for commissioner.

The governor’s criticisms of tenure drew him into a battle with teachers that played out in a series of town hall meetings across the state earlier this year, as well as a sharply critical advertising campaign by the largest teachers’ union, the Connecticut Education Association.

While the AFT criticism was softer, Palmer was still blunt about her members’ views toward Malloy.

“They’re feeling they are being disrespected and their profession is being disrespected,” Palmer said in March.

But a late compromise saved the reform effort. In the final days of the session that ended at midnight May 9, the compromise bill passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives and on a bipartisan 28-7 vote in the Senate.

“The one thing that our nation has routinely turned to as a great equalizer is a sound educational system,” Malloy said at a bill-signing ceremony on May 15 attended by Palmer and leaders of the CEA.

Palmer noted then that many at the bill signing had been at each other’s throats.

“But the outcome is well worth it. We’re going to do some good things for kids and teachers and education,” Palmer said.

Palmer is a familiar figure in the interlocking circles that are organized labor and Democratic politics. She is a vice president of the AFL-CIO and a member of the Democratic State Central Committee.