The judicial branch has eliminated the four-person Supreme Court police force, prompting accusations of retaliation from the union over its ongoing complaints about employee safety at the state’s two juvenile detention centers.
The decision to eliminate the police force and replace it with judicial marshals was made Sept. 4, but the change was delayed after Local 749 filed two formal labor complaints. The union alleges the judicial branch violated state labor laws by contracting out the work formerly done by union members and by targeting the union president, whose position is being eliminated.
“We believe the judicial branch has overstepped its boundaries by engaging in unlawful behavior,” said Jody Barr, executive director of Council 4, the parent union of Local 749. Both unions fall under the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union of the AFL-CIO.
“The (judicial) branch has sent a disturbing message to all its employees, and the public they serve, by ignoring its legal obligations and targeting our local union president in an attempt to weaken the union,” Barr added.
There is ongoing friction between the judicial branch and Local 749 over working conditions at the state’s two juvenile detention centers, located in Bridgeport and Hartford.
Union officials said employees at the detention centers are being injured and going out on workers’ compensation at significantly higher rates than usual, leading to increased risks for remaining staff and the children held in the facilities. The union has filed several grievances related to reduced staffing and mandated overtime.
“I definitely feel targeted,” said Charles (Chuck) DellaRocco, president of Local 749 and a member of the Supreme Court police force. “I have been a proud and vocal advocate for the rights and freedoms of our members. They are the backbone and quiet heroes of the state judicial system. As a union, we will continue moving forward and do our best to find a resolution to this situation.”
According to the judicial branch, judicial marshals will take over the responsibilities of the Supreme Court police force. These duties include guarding the Supreme Court, the State Library, and the Museum of Connecticut History.
Judicial officials said the change will promote uniformity of policies and procedures among security staff. Unlike police officers, however, judicial marshals do not carry guns, reducing the level of security for the building.
“Three officers and one building and grounds patrol officer comprise the Supreme Court Police Department. None of these individuals will lose their jobs, and the Branch currently is finding appropriate assignments for all of them,” wrote Rhonda Hebert, program manager of communications for the judicial branch.
DellaRocco and one of his colleagues were offered positions as judicial marshals, but according to DellaRocco the position is not an appropriate substitute.
“They are giving me an option to take a judicial marshal position. If I don’t take it by October third I will no longer be a judicial employee,” DellaRocco said. “They are saying it is comparable in pay, but it is much less. I think it’s clear that they are trying to attempt to get me, the president, out of the bargaining unit that has been fighting for its members.”
The letter sent to DellaRocco and his fellow supreme court officers states: “As a Judicial Marshal, you will be placed in a Judicial Marshal salary group, though you will retain comparable salary, perhaps by means of a supplement to your Judicial Marshal pay.”
The letter does not specify what supplement will make up the drop in salary.
In addition to being moved into a different salary group, the judicial marshal position falls under a different union.
“I think they were union busting the local president,” DellaRocco said. “We are in an election cycle. We have bargained effectively with them and made complaints and grievances. They are attacking the local union by attacking its president.”
The judicial branch declined to comment Tuesday on this accusation.