NEW BRITAIN–As he presses state employees for givebacks, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stood in solidarity Sunday with union leaders in their contract fight with the American Red Cross, putting his complicated relationship with organized labor on public display.
Malloy appeared with the leadership of AFSCME Council 4 outside their headquarters here, urging the Red Cross in Farmington to end a two-year stalemate with its 200 blood-collection workers in the union’s Local 3145.
“These folks working at American Red Cross, they do good work. It’s an unbelievable service, and they deserve a contract,” Malloy said. “You know, submit it to a mediator. Submit it to an arbitrator. Get the darn thing done.”
He embraced Sal Luciano, the executive director of Council 4, one of the unions from which Malloy is seeking state-employee concessions, and kissed Lori J. Pelletier, secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
“There is a simple reality that this group of people have had a bargaining agreement, a contract that was in place, was built over time by agreement,” Malloy said. “They’ve now gone for two years without a contract. I think it’s time they get one.”
Several dozen union members applauded the governor.
“Symbolically, it’s good when Candidate Malloy and Governor Malloy actually seem to be the same person,” Luciano said later.
Luciano said Malloy, even as he has demanded $1 billion in concessions from state employees to help erase an inherited deficit of at least $3.2 billion, has consistently supported the right to collective bargaining, unlike some other governors, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
The union says its fight with the American Red Cross is about their members’ right to bargain and continue to be an effective union, while the Red Cross insists the issues are broader.
The union is not demanding raises, Luciano said.
“Like Wisconsin, it’s not about money. We offered zeroes. They just want to break us,” Luciano said.
Christine Holschag, a registered nurse and the president of Local 3145, said the union’s latest offer includes a two-year wage freeze and concessions on health insurance. Workers in New York, Michigan and Connecticut have filed unfair labor complaints against the Red Cross.
“We will not give up our right to bargain,” she said.
The Red Cross, which was scheduled to have a negotiating session at Council 4, canceled, citing a “circus-like” atmosphere at the union hall in a message to the union.
“It would seem that AFSCME’s bargaining team is more interested in rallies, press conferences and public posturing than rolling up their sleeves and making progress at the bargaining table,” said Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.
She said the Red Cross suggested that the session scheduled for Sunday be moved from Council 4’s headquarters to a neutral site, the office of a federal labor mediator in East Hartford. With the union team remaining in New Britain, the mediator was expected to shuttle between the two sides.
Malloy had no trouble reconciling working with Council 4 on the Red Cross contract, even while at odds with them on state employee concessions.
“This is all a balancing act. I mean, that’s what a very tough economy does to you. And that’s what very bad budget-making decisions over a long period of time, having been made in the state of Connecticut, does to you,” he said. “It puts you in these quandaries.”
Malloy said he still hopes to resolve the budget, including the labor concessions, in the first week of May.