Custodians Say No

Melissa Bailey Photo(Updated) AFSCME leaders got a second stunning setback Friday as they tried to make labor peace in tough times.

Custodians in New Haven schools Friday voted 92 to 50 to reject a labor contract crafted as a compromise that would save them from wholesale privatization of their jobs. The contract would have cut the school system’s custodial workforce, eased work rules, turned the lowest-paid janitors into non-union labor, and revised previously agreed-upon wages and health and pension benefits. The vote took place by secret ballot from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at High School In The Community at 155 Water St.

“The body has spoken,” declared Kenneth Woodson (at left in photo) as he left the polling station clapping his hands at 5:15 p.m. after the vote was announced. Woodson was one of the 92 proud “no” votes. After nine years as a custodian, he said, “I would have lost everything that I worked hard to achieve” under the proposed contract.

The tentative labor agreement between the city and union leadership aimed to settle a long-running, acrimonious battle over privatizing custodial work. Two years after the last labor contract expired, AFSCME Council 4 Local 287 President Robert Montuori and city Labor Relations Director Craig Manemeit struck the deal last week in order to avoid a decision through arbitration, where each side could face losing the whole privatization question.

Click here to read the terms of the proposed agreement.

Setback II

Friday’s rejection mirrors a devastating setback at the state level, where AFSCME leaders also struck what they saw as a job-saving deal in a tough economy, only to have it rejected by the union rank-and-file.

State government workers are now taking a second vote on a contract renegotiation with the Malloy administration. After the deal failed to get initial approval, Malloy sent out 3,000 layoff notices—sending panic through organized labor’s ranks and provoking near-universal public outrage at a time of economic hardship.

AFSCME Council 4 spokesman Larry Dorman (at right in photo with Montuori), the public face of the state employees’ union coalition that battled Malloy on the labor contract, declined to make any connection between the two defeats.

“I don’t see any parallels,” Dorman said in a press conference after the vote. “This is a very specific fight that has been going on in New Haven for a long time.”

“There’s absolutely no” disconnect between union leaders and the rank-and-file, Dorman maintained.

At the state level, Dorman had complained that a campaign of misinformation subverted the deal. Dorman said that wasn’t the case in New Haven.
Custodians were well-informed about the deal, he said. They had three informational meetings that lasted over three hours each.

Local 287 President Montuori said he had supported the deal because “I thought it was reasonable in terms of saving 100 jobs when we could be faced with everyone getting tossed out.”

The contract now proceeds for a final decision by a three-man panel of arbitrators, who have been considering the contract for the past year. One arbitrator was picked by the city, one by the union and one was agreed upon by both parties.

AFSCME’s Kevin Murphy, the union’s hand-picked arbitrator on the panel, said the union leaders felt it was right to bring the membership to the table by presenting the offer to them.

He said the rank-and-file rejected the deal because “the membership had their mind set that we don’t want to be kicked around anymore.” He said arbitrators had put proceedings on hold because the negotiations were making the most progress they’d ever made in the past two-and-a-half years. Both sides have submitted their “last, best offers”; Murphy said it would likely be at least another month before arbitrators make a final decision.

Meanwhile, Dorman said the union would “keep the dialogue open” with the city’s labor department in case they want to renegotiate a deal before the arbitrators decide their fate.

DeStefano: It’s A Sign Of The Times

“I’m open to having discussions with them, but after 25 months, the process needs to end,” Mayor John DeStefano said in a 7 p.m. press conference in the mayor’s conference room in City Hall. He said he expects a final decision from arbitrators in September or October.

DeStefano called the offer a “good contract” that would have included wage hikes, maintained a defined-benefit retirement plan, and kept 100 jobs, with a promise not to lay off those workers. And it would have saved taxpayers $4 million in the current fiscal year, he said.

Thomas MacMIllan PhotoHe said the rejection now puts the decision in the hands of three arbitrators instead of in the hands of the city, school district and union members. DeStefano said “frankly, what we’ll get out of binding arbitration wouldn’t be much worse”—the city’s last best offer was more aggressive and would save $6 million in the first year, he said.

The mayor said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised” by the vote. He pointed to the rancorous debt ceiling battle in Congress this week, followed by the plunging of the stock market.

“I think people are anxious, they’re frightened, they’re concerned about their futures, and they’re worried, and I think oftentimes that gets expressed by people saying no.”

“It just characterizes the time in which we’re in,” he said.

The school board had been poised to approve the deal at a meeting Monday. The meeting has been canceled because the deal fell through, according to schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo.

“The Best For All Of Us”

Dorothy Greene (pictured) was one of the 50 who voted “yes” on the contract, even though it might have cost her her job cleaning Wilbur Cross High School.

Greene was one of the first few dozen custodians who streamed into the polling station Friday to cast their votes.

She entered the building along with a half-dozen men who said they’d be voting “no” on the contract. Both sides had the same thing on their minds: Jobs.

Greene, who has only two-and-half years on the job, said she’d likely be among the workers who would lose their jobs under the proposed contract. But she considered it a better choice than the alternative—heading to arbitration and potentially losing all 157 unionized jobs.

“It’s the right thing to do” for the greater good, Greene reasoned.

The tentative agreement covers a six-year period that began July 1, 2009 and ends June 30, 2015. It would have cut the number of unionized school maintenance employees from the current 157 (and a previous high of around 200) to 130 by Dec. 31, then to 100 by next July 1. The categories of maintenance employees represented by the union would have shrunk to include drivers, building managers, assistant building managers, and “floaters” who swing from school to school when regular staffers are sick. Each school would have had a full-time on-site union custodian. The Board of Ed would have been able to hire other custodians on its own, outside the union. Much of the cleaning would have taken place at night with non-union custodians.

The end result would have left 100 more jobs than custodians might have if the DeStefano administration has its way and privatizes the whole custodial force, Greene reasoned.

“This will save at least 100 jobs,” she said.

Union “Sold Us Down The River”

Pulling up in a Board of Education pickup truck, a man who gave his name as Spike had a different take.

“I’m voting no,” announced the 57-year-old truck driver, who has 27 years on the job. Spike said he was rejecting the contract in order to save the jobs of his less senior union members.

“I don’t want to see them lose their jobs,” he said.

Spike said he’d rather cast his lot with the arbitrators than accept the deal struck by his union leaders.

“I think the union sold us down the river,” he opined. “Somebody threw in the towel here.”

Greene and Spike both agreed that much of the union rank-and-file appears to be heading for a “no” vote.

A group of four motorcycle-riding custodians eating pizza at a picnic table gave some evidence of that claim.

“This is a ‘no’ party,” one said. They declined to elaborate on why they’re voting no.

Another custodian, who declined to give his name, said he had been on the fence until the last moment, and decided to vote “no” as well.

At 60 years old, he’s been on the job for 11 years. He said he could retire under the contract, but “not with a decent pension.” If he retires, he would get a pension of $650 per month. “I can’t live on that,” he said.

Employees would pay more toward their pension and health insurance plans (from 6 to 9 percent in both cases) under the deal.

“Also I care about the young guys—I’m not optimistic about those guys” if they get laid off. They have families, and it will be hard for them to find other work, he reasoned.

“A lot of people are saying ‘no,’” Greene said. “I don’t think people understand. I just don’t think they’re looking at the full picture.”

The full picture, she said, is that the union isn’t going to do any better through the arbitration process.

Under the proposed deal, departing workers would have received a package ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 for voluntarily retiring. After that, if layoffs occur, they’d be based on employees’ “two-year history of attendance and discipline.” If employees had similar histories, only then would layoffs take place based on seniority.

Custodial workers would get no wage increases for the first two years of the contract already passed and 2 percent increases a year over the next two years. The two sides would negotiate the increase for the final two years in the future.

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posted by: union worker on August 5, 2011  5:00pm

I wonder if the truck driver is one of the custodians with a poor two year record. He should retire with 27 yrs. on the job and that will save a job. A no vote will only delay the layoffs. At least this way 100 jobs will be saved along with most benefits.

posted by: SteveHC on August 5, 2011  9:42pm

I agree with the “no” voters here, and that this is a very different situation than what the state workers have been dealing with. To vote for a union contract that actually specifies that current union positions could be changed to non-union jobs is crazy, because it spells the beginning of the end of any and all job security with decent pay and benefits… might as well take one’s chances with the arbitrators.

posted by: Limited Life on August 5, 2011  9:57pm

Another stunning success for John DeStefano JUNIOR’s leadership of the city. He must surely be voted in again as the DEMOCRAT mayor of all time. He may not have made it this time with these union luddites, but look at the picture. The failure is down to Clark and Mayo, not him. He will prevail very soon. With cheap air fares he will bring in chinese slave workers at 10 cents an hour and save the taxpayers millions. That’s the ultimate in privatization. If they don’t like it there’s the vietnamese at 8 cents an hour, or even the pakistanis who will work very hard for a bowl of rice every second day. Unions are a thing of the past. Total extortionists. Globalization and privatization are the future.

posted by: Yes, No, Yes, No Thanks on August 5, 2011  11:31pm

Oh what a crazy two weeks it has been…Yes, no, yes, no, yes, NO Thanks.  I have never been so torn about something in my life.  Yes, the economy is bad and we are going to get hit with some cuts, I understand that.  When receiving the first rumors of the B.O.E offering a contract, oh my God, what to think.  The major question is why all of the sudden?  Going on for over two years and so close to the verdict from the Mediator.  Yes we would have guaranteed “some of” ourselves some stability over the next few years but there would have been many families’ in jeopardy.  All or nothing I believe, so instead of choosing each others fate we will push it back in the hands of DeStefano, and the arbitration process.  For the fifty that voted yes don’t feel bad, we are now in the same position that we were in two weeks ago.  I don’t believe that the union had sold us down the river either!!!  They are the same as us, we voted them in, and Rob has done more work for our benefit than any other president. Remember…he stepped into a mess of a situation, and we are lucky he stepped up to the plate. This contract was a job saver for 100 employees, but also the results would change the lives of 157 union brothers and sisters.  Members that would have taken the buy out offers had too many questions un-answered.  Even though we had a great question and answer meeting with guest speakers, that went better than expected.  Will Clark did a stand up job answering any and all questions answered by 287, “cool, calm, and collected, and cocky”.  Pretty brave if you ask me, I almost felt bad for him when he walked through the crowd.  We all behaved ourselves with only one or two heckles in the mist of the crowd.  But also the risk of being tazered was present that evening, by Officers that were just treated unfairly. 
Well who knows what next week will bring??? 

•  Probably AFB minions coming in groups to intimate my crew and myself
•  The half an hour of over time I begged for taken away from me
•  Rumors of pink slips stapled to our checks on Thursday
•  Staff and other custodians calling me crazy for voting NO
•  Being happy, that the building I am beautifying for September, I still might be in for a little while longer

posted by: Ray on August 6, 2011  4:46am

Will buy outs and attrition be a better choice? I hate to see hard working government jobs with long term family benefits be thrown out for any reason. It’s lie leaning a ladder on a building and climbing to the to to a secure goal and then the building is knocked down from under you. Are these folks expected to start a 20 year career over and die without medical and retirement benefits? Sell some bonds and pay the people you have. Let future employees, if you hire any over the next 10 years agree to start at the non union contractor positions but know what they are getting rather than snatch what was already the future life of these families.

posted by: Insane on August 6, 2011  10:29am

On the NHR article entitled “New Haven custodians turn down new contract; dispute heads to arbitration”, a custodian interviewed is paid $46,000 a year.

How is it that a school cleaner can get paid more than teachers with 3 years of experience, when those teachers also have Masters degrees and state certifications?

posted by: ken on August 6, 2011  10:43am

thanks guys for deciding my fate, I hope you guys realize that its highly likely that the arbitrator will likely privatize all of us. Maybe you guys didn’t realize this realize this, but this is what the union was trying to tell us. we are going to end up with a very high deductible medical plan that no one can afford, also sick days that cant be accumulated, and no buyout for sick time on retirement. But the good news is we will all be in the unemployment line together. Thanks again guys

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 6, 2011  11:16am

History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.” 
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions.  One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”  Molly Ivins

Hang in there!!!

posted by: robn on August 6, 2011  12:20pm

I think that there are several points mostly missing from the debate about the compensation of city employees.

1) Compensation may not be Reasonable:
Current compensation was negotiated in the context of a strong central executive (our mayor) who was recently running for Governor and trying to curry favor with organized labor. Unions made a Faustian bargain and now it’s time to adjust to the reality that everyone else is facing.

2) Not all Unions Are the Same
Teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, custodians, clerical workers…they all have very different levels of compensation and responsibility. Using the expression “The Unions” is pretty stupid because they’re not monolithic. If the public doesn’t gain a more nuanced understanding, we won’t be able to make smart decisions while balancing our budget.

3) Cuts Can’t all Come From the Same Place
Union concessions are just one small piece of a very complex puzzle we’ll need to solve in order to make our city financially sound. To give an example, our Debt Service (interest on borrowed money) is about $65M and makes up 13% of our current budget. We would have to shut down the entire Police Department and the entire Fire Department for a year to equal that amount of money. Or to put it another way, to retire all of the debt which we’re paying interest on, we would have to shut down the entire city government for a year and a quarter and devote our entire budget to retiring that debt.

Scary? You bet…and there’s only one mayoral candidate who seems to understand it and who is sincerely talking about it…Jeff Kerekes.

posted by: If you only knew on August 6, 2011  12:27pm

Lets be clear on this contract. We as a union give up 60 positions. AFB which is already city contacted hires people to fill these positions at a 20 hr a week no benefit plan. These are the employees that will be eventually taking all of the jobs and a good percentage of them were not even born in this country. These employees will also be working around your children. With that being said how much money will De Stefano actually save if god for bid a child gets touched,Lets realize with a 20 hr a week job you cant hardly even fed a family also no benefits what would make you value your job. This move will never work out> We need the union to set a standard pay scale, and secure employment. The city is way top heavy in administration some schools even have 4 vice principles at 100 k a year. Destefano even rehires 90 k a year pension receiving employees back as consultants for 80 k a year. Lets be frank here Money savings can be made in the right places but its not by 160 custodians. We currently have the blue care 1 plan the city wants to take that away how is that reasonable if they all still have century preferred through blue cross everyone needs to move to blue care 1 before we are knocked down another notch. The mayor has been in office far to long and is becoming a dictator. Will Clark received a longevity check last year how is this possible when only on the job 4 years . When asked he said he deserved it. Do not be fooled by the mayors silk tongue. He does not want his pension or benefits cut if he is willing to take massive cuts then I will also right along side him. He needs to be a role model for the city so lets start saving from the top where people are making the large salaries and can afford to sacrifice whatever is needed.

posted by: Sharri on August 6, 2011  6:09pm

Thank you, Mayor DeStefano. This is wonderful news. So clever of you to get the arbitrator on your side. I think Sarah Palin will be as pleased as I am the custodians jobs are being privatized. There’s too much government already. Thank you so much.

posted by: streever on August 6, 2011  6:23pm

The contract was a poor one.

Give up your rights to collective bargaining?

What union member would do that?

To the guy upset that a custodian makes more than a teacher, well, the teacher should be making 46k too—that is no reason to cut the custodians pay, especially if we want to employ New Haven residents.

If we can’t pay around 46k, I don’t know how we can expect our employees to have families and live in New Haven.

posted by: facts on August 6, 2011  9:03pm

I love it MR pick up driver has 27 years that means if they get privatized he retires almost full pension. Hey be the best Union brother retire and give a younger guy a job.This is what is wrong with Unions Seniority

posted by: Non Union guy on August 6, 2011  9:09pm

Look at the picture of the people coming out the door what it says to me is PRIVATIZE and fast. They are clueless to the real world I mean this guy is saying the union sold him out and they went there to vote Hello that is called democracy and that is how it should be done. If it were underhanded you would not vote overpaid unskilled workers with attitudes getting benefits medical vacations. They can go work on the outside and earn more HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA good luck people

posted by: union member new haven on August 6, 2011  9:51pm

it is time to get a new union to fight for the workers…...time to change city hall and get new unions

posted by: robn on August 7, 2011  2:32pm


So let me get this straight…nonunion guy equals immigrant equals child molester???

posted by: JAK on August 7, 2011  3:19pm

Just a question:  Does anyobody posting here, union or non-union doubt for a minute that the taxpayers could have better service for less cost? 

Also, don’t non-union custodians who work for private companies have families too?  If they do better work, have better attitudes, and cost us less, why are we waiting 24 months?

posted by: streever on August 7, 2011  3:58pm

No doubt the union contracts need revision—I’m just not comfortable reading comments that we should pay full-time staff less than 40k, or hearing that a key provision of a new contract was the elimination of contracts entirely for some workers.

Unions are not the enemy—while certainly we’ve over-promised to our unions for years, it does not mean the entire system is flawed, and abolishing union membership entirely for many members is not the right way to go.

posted by: JAK on August 7, 2011  4:57pm

Streever, You’re right, unions are not the enemy.  Politicians who kowtow to them, who write laws that allow unions to burrow into our public treasury, and preserve unfair legislation that holds taxpayers as political hostages - THEY are the enemy and ought to be cast out of office. 

BTW, Why are you qualified as arbiter of compensation? If someone is willing to work for $39K, has a family and desperately wants a job, who are you to say “No”?  Especially when its going to allow ME to keep food on the table for MY family?

And why should a law insist on having “contracts”?  What does that have to do with public service?  Does a convenience store clerk have a contract?  Why not insist that he gets one too?  Why just public sector workers? 

I think the guy who sells you coffee is underpaid.  YOU need to pay him a buck more because I think its fair.  Agree?

If people think they are better off negotiating as group then that’s fine. You could actually think of scenarios where there is great efficiency in that model.  But we shouldn’t have a law that says our elected officials MUST negotiate with them.  And why do government employees HAVE TO join a union?  That’s un-American and shouldn’t be legal.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 7, 2011  5:02pm

posted by: JAK on August 7, 2011 3:19pm
Just a question:  Does anyobody posting here, union or non-union doubt for a minute that the taxpayers could have better service for less cost?

Also, don’t non-union custodians who work for private companies have families too?  If they do better work, have better attitudes, and cost us less, why are we waiting 24 months

Wake up people this is why we are in the mess we are in to day and it is not union or non union workers.

Robert Reich connects the dots on the economy.

posted by: Custodian to the end on August 8, 2011  6:59am

After looking at the size of them three custodians in that picture on the top i see y the schools don’t get cleaned as for the guy in the truck y don’t u retire and let one of the less senior people have the job. Oh I forgot spike too much comp and sick time abuse

posted by: Truth Teller on August 8, 2011  2:54pm

Montori has no fight in him. He of course sided with the mayor and the city. They both supported the new contract. Montori is in it with the mayor. Probably has a nice job already lined up in the mayors office. They are corrupt and in-effective at representing their brothers and sisters of the UNION. SHAME on ROB and his underlings!
Hey at least people who leave the building and do bad work are finally getting theirs!LOL To bad all the good custodians have to suffer. !