AFSCME Election Under Investigation

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAn investigatory panel of the national AFSCME union plans a visit to New Haven later this month to hear charges of misconduct in the recent election of a president of the city government managers union.

A city worker who filed the complaint informed fellow members of AFSCME Local 3144 in a packet distributed this week that “AFSCME International Judicial Panel is scheduled to be in New Haven on January 29th to begin their investigation.”

“I can confirm there will be a hearing” in New Haven, Cheryl Kelly, a spokeswoman at AFSCME’s Washington DC office, told the Independent.

Lynn Piekarz, an executive administrative assistant to the city parks director, filed the complaint with the national headquarters. She accused the victor of the Nov. 13 Local 3144 election, incumbent Cherlyn Poindexter, of violating rules during the campaign, including using city email to run her campaign, creating a hostile work environment, and getting involved in preparing the ballot and election itself. Piekarz distributed a packet to members detailing her accusations.

The trouble began with accusations in the opposite direction. Poindexter originally accused Piekarz, a supporter of challenger Tom Verderame, of campaigning on work time, a false accusation that led supervisors to send a warning to union members that created a “hostile environment for all other candidates and their supporters” as well as “an atmosphere of trepidation and anxiety, Piekarz charged.

Piekarz also accused Poindexter of using city email to run her campaign—a violation of not just city policy, but of AFSCME’s rules for conducting elections. Piekarz’s packet included a log of email messages from the accounts of Poindexter and her slate of candidates, which Piekarz obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The log registered 54 messages to with attachments to union labels and to election flyers (“take looks for changes - let me know”), questions about supporters (“Offering help with campaign; also, status of her reclassification”); and pitches for support (“Reminder election is 11/13/13, I hope my team has your support, Harold Brooks & Marianne Carolla, 3144 Election.”).

“Here is my flyer can you post it in the Credit Union. This is the first of many. 3144 Election,” Poindexter emailed on Oct. 17.

On Oct. 29, she emailed, “My new flyer; what do you think? 3144 Election.”

“[Poindexter] had a small army of people campaigning for her via city email and flyers. A staggering amount of work was going on, after she falsely said that I was working on city time. I feel sick to my stomach about it. These people are supposed to be looking out for us and promoting fair and democratic elections,” Piekarz said in a conversation Wednesday. “If you’re the president of the union you cannot be involved in election preparation” under AFSCME rules, Piekarz said. A separate committee handles the logistics of putting on the election.

“She had the ballot a day before the election, and asked another employee to print it,” Piekarz said of Poindexter—an alleged violation of AFSCME’s rules handbook. Poindexter also “arranged for” bringing a ballot box and food to the election itself. This was also a violation of the AFSCME rule against presidential involvement in election preparation, Piekarz said.

Poindexter declined to discuss the upcoming hearing or the allegations.

“I haven’t received anything. I have no comment,” Poindexter said.

Shown the email log Piekarz distributed, Poindexter refused to look. “I have no time,” she said. “I’m on my lunch hour.”

Shawn Garris, an outspoken union member who works as a city procurement analyst, called the current case emblematic of a long-running lack of democracy in the AFSCME local. He accused union leadership of favoritism in helping employees get reclassified or promoted. He spoke of failed efforts over the years to present candidate forums for members to hear from challengers as well as incumbents. “Having on open discussion was frowned on,” Garris said.

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posted by: Wooster Squared on January 16, 2014  3:30pm

This looks pretty serious. Can’t see how Ms. Poindexter is going to get out of this one.

I enjoyed this gem in particular:

Shown the email log Piekarz distributed, Poindexter refused to look. “I have no time,” she said. “I’m on my lunch hour.”

It sounds like Ms. Poindexter had plenty of time to answer the question, she just knew she was backed into a corner.

In the end this could be a good thing for AFSCME members. It appears a lot of them aren’t being well represented right now and feel bullied by Ms. Poindexter and Co.

posted by: anonymous on January 16, 2014  3:32pm

Well, Poindexter works in New Haven.  So it’s not like she came up with these ideas on her own. 

If the allegations are true, it would be interesting to know is who else from the city was involved.

posted by: 32knot on January 16, 2014  4:31pm

New Haven is starting to resemble Chicago of the 60s and 70s and maybe even today. A city dominated by one party with a very big stick.

posted by: ElmCitier on January 16, 2014  4:52pm

This fight started when Connecticut Freedom of Information Act requests were required in order to gather the records of “reclassifications” for city employees, records which the union leadership would not provide, even though they are public records.

Reclassifications occur when the jobs of city employees change or when hiring inequities that violate union contract rules occur.  Job reclassifications are determined by the union leadership, not by workers’ supervisors, as would happen in a corporate environment.

These reclassifications were requested by union members in order to determine if they were being fairly conducted since it was well known that the reclassification committee was rarely meeting but reclassifications were occurring.

There is a much bigger story here of fear and favoritism going on.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 16, 2014  9:04pm

Well well well, it seems that this union with its leadership does whatever they want to whoever they want. How stifling can one president be and how disrespectful to her entire membership. No, ofcourse she didn’t want to talk to the press and wouldn’t make time. It is clear some serious (more than shenanigans)manipulation went on.
It is very sad because it seems that unions have really lost sight of what they are there for. It seems the BOA have lost sight of what they are there for (which is also mostly union from Unite Here).
Power and more power is the enemy. This president really needs to be removed from what I have read.

posted by: citoyen on January 17, 2014  8:25am

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

Cherlyn Poindexter attacks Jackie James’s new position at City Hall.

Lynn Piekarz attacks Cherlyn Poindexter’s renewed position as head of the City Hall managers’ union.

Jackie James attacks the public’s access to part of City Hall.

Did Jackie get her signals crossed?  Wasn’t she supposed to attack Lynn Piekarz?

posted by: willie11 on January 17, 2014  9:22am

What a shame that all this negativity is due to employees who didn’t get a reclassification——we should all be happy we have jobs to come to—-so many people are out of work—-Cherlyn you are true and never change—-continue to believe in your self and let go of the haters——Lynn you should really get your self a real job——Local 3144 members remember you will never have anyone who is true to you and who will fight for you like Cherlyn——-

posted by: Guido Brunetti on January 17, 2014  12:40pm

Amen Willie 11 !!! “Local 3144 members, you will never have anyone fight for you like Cherlyn”.

Anyone who truly knows her will never doubt that her level of integrity is compromised.

posted by: NHInsider on January 17, 2014  8:37pm

This is ridiculous. Any one who is in 3144 and has gone to her for help when administrators abuse their power and their employees knows Cheryln will do whatever she can to protect them. I have recently needed her assistance and even though I am not a ‘participating’ member of 3144 she immediately jumped in to help.  She has proven year after year to be fair and honest.  Keep it the great work Cheryln!!

posted by: Guido Brunetti on January 18, 2014  3:14pm

All who posted BW (before Willie 11), you are on the outside looking in. You base your comments on incomplete information. So what if Cherlyn used City email. You really believe no politicking takes place on city time?

Any employee who has been abused, mistreated, laid off knows her magnificence in championing workers rights. She is a force to be reckoned with and DeStefano knew this. God Bless Cherlyn.

posted by: citywkr on January 18, 2014  5:54pm

Cherlyn has always treated all union members fairly, never allowing personal feelings to get in the way.  She is a straight arrow who always strives to do things by the book and expects the same from those around her.  It’s unfortunate that the loser of this election has a case of sour grapes and is being supported by those who are in it for their own personal gain; not for the union as a whole.  Sad to see someone who can’t just lose with dignity but has to stoop to this level to win an election.

posted by: UnheardNerd on January 24, 2014  1:00am

As a dues-paying member of 3144, I must say that I’m glad an outside authority is coming in to investigate things.  I’m not going to deny that Cherlyn fights for her union members, but you’re delusional if you think she fights for all of them equally.  Do you want to know why the election was so close?  Because nearly half of the people she’s supposed to be representing don’t feel represented.  It’s not my place to determine if foul play actually happened in the election or with the reclassification committee, but it certainly does appear that procedure is not being followed, and I look forward to the findings of the investigation.

Being grateful to have a job is not the same as lying down and accepting less money than what you deserve.  The union is supposed to protect its members from people in charge who have the same ideas as certain commenters here and think that a poor economy is an excuse to pay people less than what they’re worth.  Being grateful to have a job that pays less and demands more wears thin really quickly, and is a recipe for high turnover and poor performance within any organization.