Challenge Slate Takes On City Union Prez

Markeshia Ricks PhotoPaul Bass PhotosAn election Friday will put to the test a municipal union president’s eight-year tenure — and hard-charging approach to negotiating with the city.

The election is for leadership positions of AFSCME Local 3144, which represents around 370 management and professional employees of city government. The election takes place Friday at the Central Labor Council headquarters on Chapel Street in Fair Haven.

Cherlyn Poindexter, who worked her way up through the union ranks from the position of steward, is seeking a fifth two-year term, running with a slate that includes union Vice-President Harold Brooks.

Local 3144 has been at the center of numerous controversies over the past two years, from individual job reclassifications to discipline over stolen city data and a Harp administration effort to remove numerous positions from the bargaining unit.

Poindexter, an administrative aide in the fire chief’s suite, touted her “leadership” and “experience” in a flyer directed to members voting Friday.

“I have been relentlessly fighting for security for our work for over 20 years and have been the leader of this strong union since 2009. Working for, with and many times against the Administration is a tough road that I am more than prepared to walk.”

An 11-member slate is running against Poindexter’s slate, arguing that Local 3144 needs more democratic, transparent leadership that better represents all members rather than fighting counterproductive battles to protect insiders. Malinda Figuera, an executive assistant in the Engineering Department who has worked for the city for 18 years, is seeking the top spot. Shawn Garris of the Bureau of Purchases is seeking the number-two spot.

“We need change,” Figuera said.

“We feel the current leadership has lost touch with the membership,” Garris added. “Cherlyn is trying to co-manage the city. The mayor was elected for the city, not Cherlyn.” Poindexter did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

In a joint interview this week, Garris, Figueroa and Building Department Executive Administrative Assistant Dennice Pair, who’s running for corresponding secretary, promised to communicate more with members if elected, to form subcommittees to involve members more in decisions. The union has been without a contract since 2015; the challengers blamed Poindexter for not bargaining reasonably.

They also disagreed with her position in a controversy currently before the state Labor Relations Council, where Local 3144 is contesting a Harp administration petition to reclassify employees to remove them from the union. In previous Independent interviews, Poindexter accused Mayor Toni Harp — a founder of Local 3144 back when she worked for city government — of seeking to bust the union in order to weaken it.

Pointdexter has argued that she is determined to make the administration follow civil-service rules. (The city argues that the local shouldn’t have members who report to other members in the workplace; Poindexter disagreed, arguing that the current arrangement has worked fine for years.) The members of the union challenging Pointdexter argued that the controversy could have been avoided if Poindexter had negotiated in better faith over reasonable Harp administration requests to move some department director positions into executive management category once the current occupants left those positions.

“I would have loved to sit down and hear the mayor make a presentation to the membership” about the administration’s reasons for seeking the change, Pair said. “We have to work with the administration. We can’t be enemies. This president has made herself an enemy of the city administration. I’m not an enemy. I know it’s going to take both sides to come together for agreements. There’s a way to argue and disagree; there’s a way to do it professionally. She’s a bully.”

“We don’t let them do whatever they want. We fight for our workers,” Poindexter said in a previous interview about the reclassification petition.

Similarly, the challengers criticized Local 3144 leaders for assigning a union member to accompany an employee who was losing her job in the health department to her office and helping her steal files with the personal information of over 500 New Haveners with sexually transmitted diseases. The Harp administration subsequently fired the union member. Poindexter challenged the firing; she charged in an Independent interview that the Harp administration punished the wrong person and was covering up its own ineptitude in the matter.

Challenger Garris cited the incident as an example of union leadership excusing unethical behavior, waging fights against the public interest, and protecting insiders. (Click here and here to read more about the incident.)

Poindexter, for her part, has argued that the union needs strong leadership to protect its interest in the face of management efforts to play its own games of favorites in hiring people. She has repeatedly pointed out the importance of insisting that management follow rules rather than cut corners. Click here and here for stories with specific cases of objections she has raised on hiring and layoffs, and here to read about her success in preventing the hiring of a temporary grant writer for the police department over the chief’s objections that millions of grant dollars could be at stake.

In a written pitch to the membership for this election, Poindexter’s slate touted a “seasoned track record!” that includes winning “over $20,000 in cases for 3144 members”; the jobs back for 25 union members who’d been laid off; “bumping rights” and pension benefits for special fund employees; challenges over “anti-union animus, subcontracting and direct bargaining”; and a challenge to the state over “destruction of municipal records.” (Click here to read about a state Labor Department decision upholding Poindexter’s complaint that the Harp administration had “harassed and retaliated” against Local 3144.)

“Don’t elect the unqualified,” the Poindexter slate’s flyer urges voters.

Poindexter in a separate flyer portrayed the election as taking place at a time when Local 3144 will “face even more difficult times.” She wrote that she is “ready to hit the ground running” with expertise in contract negotiation, layoffs, grievances, labor and employment laws, petitioning, arbitration, and hearings involving workmen’s compensation, civil and human rights violations, Freedom of Information requests, and prohibitive practices.

Poindexter’s slate includes Harold Brooks for vice-president, Dean Criscio for treasurer, Carmen Mendez for recording secretary, Velisha Cloud for corresponding secretary, Linda Davis for the District 1 seat, Linda Hannans for District 4, and Georgiann Dogolo for District 5.

The challenge slate includes Figueroa for president, Garris for vice-president, Pair for corresponding secretary, Carmen Goycoechea for recording secretary, Billie Jo Wilson for treasurer, Evan Trachten for District 1 representative, Sally Brown for District 2, Tom Verderame for District 3 (who lost to Poindexter 157 to 129 when he challenged her for the presidency in 2014, in an election that had been held a second time after Poindexter was found to have used her work email to campaign), Ramona Davis for District 4, Gwendolyn Busch Williams for District 5, and Mark DeCola, Michael Fumiatti, and Margaret Targrove for trustee slots.

Barbara Montalvo is running as a “neutral” candidate, unaffiliated with either slate, for the District 2 position.

Click on or download the above audio file to listen to an interview with Poindexter and AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman on a previous episode of WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.”

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posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on October 19, 2017  4:10pm

The image of Ms. Poindexter in the very first picture is unfortunate, Paul.  I know that the so-called conventional wisdom (which is neither) is that “pictures don’t lie,” but the very opposite is true.  Pictures fail to provide context as the capture only a split second on any event, and in that way can misrepresent the truth, easily.  The stereotypical image of the domineering, scary Black woman is being played up here.  The image of the white man cowering is not helping to undermine that stereotype, either.

I have met and engaged with Ms. Poindexter while I served on the Board of Ethics.  While the Board ruled against the cause that she represented, I found her to be knowledgeable and a serious advocate for her point of view and the person she came to represent. 

When white men do what I saw her do, they are presented and imaged as great defenders of their causes, while this African-American woman (and many others) is shown as combative and frightening.  I don’t know what the NHI staff was thinking when they took and printed this picture, but I find it distasteful and a shameful representation of an ugly stereotype.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

[Paul: Thanks for the feedback. I too find Cherlyn Poindexter to be knowledgeable and a serious advocate of her point ofd view. I switched the photo—I had not intended to be a negative portrayal; I thought it showed her as passionate, but I definitely see your point.]

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 19, 2017  4:16pm

I would have loved to sit down and hear the mayor make a presentation to the membership” about the administration’s reasons for seeking the change, Pair said. “We have to work with the administration.

Work How?

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on October 19, 2017  4:40pm

I responded to the picture in the article before reading the article, as the image was abhorrent enough to me without commenting on the content following it.  I have since read the story. 

It is apparent to me that the staff of the NHI is following its modus vivendi of supporting whatever administration is in office at the time.  I’m not sure what a self-proclaimed “independent” news source needs to achieve by promoting the governmental status quo but presenting an unflattering picture of the union presidential candidate which the present administration dislike probably helps to advance the administration’s goal. 

Officeholders in any Union job chief responsibilities are to represent their members, not to cozy up to the executive who oversees their jobs.  Such cozying up could very well constitute a conflict of interest and malpractice on the part of the Union officeholder. 

It is not a secret that strong-willed and acting women are not well-respected in our society, especially if those same women are standing with and for the “least of these,” or those without much power.  We seem to be even less tolerant of African-American women who stand against an entrenched status quo.  Those who stand with it, however, are embraced as “historic leaders” and “trailblazers” when the only trail that they are blazing is the well-worn path that has already been laid out for them. 

Poindexter is good at what she does.  She does not need to be replaced. 

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on October 19, 2017  6:28pm

A challenging slate that wishes to unseat one of the most tenacious fighters for the interest of her members that this city has ever seen.  Why? 

Cherlyn does her homework and aligns herself with an ethical approach in all of her meetings. 

This coup isn’t about doing a better job than what 3144 current has.  This is clearly about trying to silence a union president that refuses to capitulate or accept crumbs when she knows that her members deserve entire loaf. 

Cherlyn refuses to be maneuvered in the directions in which “they” want her to veer in; and because of her steadfast discipline, they want her gone.

Fortunately, the intelligent members of 3144 can see through this sham and understand the genesis of this comical act and vote overwhelmingly for Cherlyn again.

Don’t be bamboozled by smoke and mirrors.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on October 19, 2017  6:47pm

I strongly agree with Mr. Ross-Lee.  Poindexter appears to be a strong leader who has been extremely effective at representing and advocating for her members. From what I can tell, she’s the most knowledgeable person on labor issues in the city. If she was a white man in a suit, she’d be pulling down big dollars. It’s no wonder that the Mayor and her administration have put together this “rival” slate to take her down: she’s been running circles around them. And blaming Poindexter for the Mayor’s union busting actions is ridiculous. Negotiating is one thing but by filing the petition to break up the Union, the Mayor went nuclear. During the mayoral debate both she and Paca tried to blame each other for doing it because they both knew it was mean-spirited and disgusting. No contract and the Mayor has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on an effort to break up this Union. It’s shameful. Sorry, that ain’t Poindexter’s fault! Harp would love to now have her foxes guarding the hen house.

posted by: Inside 165 on October 19, 2017  7:50pm

I can tell you that Harp is salivating at the prospect of Figueroa and her cast of no nothing kiss asses winning.  Reading their quotes in this article if the members of 3144 can’t figure out that they will be sold out from day one if Figueroa and Co. wins than they deserve what they will get. It’s amazing that individuals running for union office clearly don’t understand the role of the union. Garris talks about the public interest. Hello, the union represents the members interest not the public’s. To list all of Figueroa suck up comments are to numerous to list but what takes the cake is what Pair said. To call Cherlyn a bully to the Harp administration after the state labor board found the Harp administration guilty of relation and harassment of Poindexter and the unions member has to be the most uninformed and ignorant I’ve ever heard. Read it for yourself here.

Cherlyn is the best President 3144 has had in a long time. She doesn’t take shit from anyone and isn’t afraid to being the fight when needed. She’s knows what’s she’s talking about and to put it bluntly she’s not the punk that the Harp administration would like to have in there. If anyone is a bully is Harp and she can’t atand that she can’t bully 3144 with Poindexter at the helm.

So if you want someone who will continue to protect and fight for you vote for Cherlyn and her slate. If you want Tony Harp calling the shots and running 3144 vote for Figueroa and her slate. It’s that simple.

posted by: NH_Needs_HELP on October 19, 2017  8:28pm

People have a right to run against incumbents.  Anybody who is a member of this Union, which I am, has the right to criticize the president, (Much like we have the right to criticize our other duly elected public officials).

There are any number of failures under her tenure. You may personally like her but I and many other members will not be supporting her because she has not given us a contract And weakened our Union with her antiquated shenanigans.

Relationships are able to solve problems and her ability to alienate make good faith efforts prolonged, protracted, and dismal.  Poor antiquated leadership has significantly harmed our membership over the last 5 years. In all fairness she was a great chief steward.

LUCKILY,  there are people willing to risk their livelihood and run, because if they lose they will clearly be punished if they ever need the unions help. This cycle has been endemic in the city of New Haven from what I’ve been told and seen.This is a known fact.

It takes courage for people to stand up to a machine. We need less fighting, hostility, and fury And more personal dialog and face time with decision makers . These are not personal attacks these are impediments to bargaining, no war needed.

Civility respect and dignity bring people to the table to solve matters.  No more having a huge constituency of ill informed individuals endlessly rubber stamping her agenda, thanks to better communication.

She is quite a fighter but as you know in politics there are times to stop fighting and make deals. Since my livelihood is subject to her control I am quite pleased we vote tomorrow.
There is time for war and there is time to solve problems.  Allowing the re classification to go forward is beyond the nuclear option. The failure to stop this Petition did it for me, very little done for preparation, no game plan, 100% roll the dice, risk everyone,

posted by: bewildered on October 19, 2017  8:43pm

Poindexter only works for people she likes.  She has given up benefits that were already won.  She only puts through reclassifications for her friends.  Enough is enough.  It is time for change.

To all the non-union members who are making comments, please remember that we are the dues paying members and we get to decide what we want as a collective body.  A single union president should not make deals with anyone on our behalf without our input.  That, however, has been the norm in this union.

Also, competition is good.  If she really is a good leader, she will win the election.  But to not properly inform members about the election date, to not follow the tenets of the 3144 bylaws, to distort truth in union meetings over and over again for her own self-indulgence,  to give up benefits to save her personal friends who will not do their jobs, to turn the union presidency into a full-time job so that she does not have to work, to bully people because she can, to refuse to answer simple questions put to her by the membership, and to continually treat the City as if it is her personal fiefdom—to me, gentlemen, these are infractions that cannot be overlooked.

Ms. Poindexter has proven over and over again that she is a vindictive, spiteful individual.

May the best woman win!

posted by: Paul Bass on October 20, 2017  8:19am

(Fire Union President Frank Ricci submitted the following letter for this story:)
Vice President Mark Vendetto and I have had the distinct honor to work with President Poindexter and we have learned from her at her monthly Presidents meetings. She applies passion, persistence and professionalism to any endeavor she under takes and has shown a cooperative willingness to work with other unions to benefit her members.

Out of all of the active union Presidents she has the greatest command of the law and required process under the charter and civil service rules. Furthermore, based off our vast experience dealing with the city she is viewed as effective and formidable by her opponents on the opposite side of the table.

Many in non-leadership roles think the way to ensure compliance with the contract is to work with the city. Our last union administration did that only to have our new members slaughtered at the bargaining table. You see if you don’t make an issue of things to protect the process than you are not viewed as an issue. The “go along to get along is an absurd and cowardice approach that will enable the city to trample your rights. The principle all strong leaders adapt is to work with management where they can for the betterment of thier members and city, however when they violate their own rules and retaliate against union members you have to hold them accountable and yes at times you figuratively speaking have to hit them with a bat.

President Poindexter has always placed her members above her own interest and has worked diligently on their behalf.  She has a level of institutional knowledge that can’t be matched.  Mark and I have both said if she was a firefighter she would garner our vote for the VP or President. President Poindexter has tenacity, attention to detail and command of state labor law she is a fighter, friend and she is formable.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 20, 2017  8:26am

posted by: bewildered on October 19, 2017 8:43pm

Ms. Poindexter has proven over and over again that she is a vindictive, spiteful individual.

Can you tell me what is the track record of the people who are running against her slate.Form what I hear they have none.

posted by: Owlette on October 20, 2017  10:48am

Poindexter accused Mayor Toni Harp — a founder of Local 3144 back when she worked for city government — of seeking to bust the union in order to weaken it.

Wow this statement enlightens my thoughts about what is happening here!!!
Mayor Harp wants her out like just like she wanted
1. Nichole Jefferson
2. Marcus Paca
3. Mendi Blue

She wants full control ohhhh wow

posted by: Westville voter on October 20, 2017  5:16pm

Just a little reminder about Poindexter’s conduct in past elections. Anywhere other than New Haven, such misappropriation of taxpayer resources would have consequences. She should have been fired and possibly prosecuted then. But, this is New Haven….

posted by: Burnsie on October 20, 2017  11:35pm

The vote has happened already and I don’t know the result—but I want to echo Frank Riccis statement—-Cherlyn is the real deal—as VP of the teachers union she has earned my respect—so competent, so caring, so selfless—I hope for the benefit of our city that she prevailed—Tom Burns

posted by: bewildered on October 21, 2017  11:26pm

Really Burnsie:  stop mixing up your people.  Ms. Pondexter is not a teacher.  She could have been VP of the teacher’s union for that reason.  If you know something we don’t know, please disclose.  Otherwise, stay out of union business as the dues paying members have spoken.

posted by: Burnsie on October 28, 2017  3:19am

Hey Bewilder-
I only opined after the vote—would never interfere in other unions issues-just wanted Cherlyn to know how much she was appreciated by the other unions in our city—she lost and I hurt for her as I know how much she cared about her people—but the workers have spoken and we look forward to working with the new President as she represents her workers to make our city the best it can be—Tom