February 28, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
Cleaners who lost their jobs at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut, two months ago won’t have to flounder for a living any more. In a deal spawned by union and community pressure, they’re getting their jobs back—and the workers who replaced them will be joining them in Local 32BJ SEIU.
In an agreement announced Feb. 27, the Aquarium agreed to reinstate its contract with Premiere Maintenance Inc. for cleaning services, which it terminated in December. Some of the 11 workers who lost their jobs will be rehired to work there, while others will work at other PMI sites.
The part-time workers hired at lower wages to replace them will work for PMI and join Local 32BJ, said union spokesperson Teresa Candori. Some will stay on at the Aquarium, President Jennifer Herring said in a statement, and “Premier Maintenance has agreed to make good-faith efforts to place the remainder in other locations as jobs open up.”
“The Aquarium’s decision is proof that the Norwalk community will stand up and do the right thing when economic justice is concerned,” Alberto Bernardez, 32BJ’s Connecticut district assistant leader, said in a statement. “I’m proud of my brothers and sisters who stood firm in defense of their rights, and of all the allies who stood right beside them.”
“I’m glad the Aquarium has decided to stand with us, because we have always done our best for the Aquarium,” added Erika Aguilera, a mother of two who had worked for PMI there for 14 years. “I had not been able to find another job. I’m relieved that I can pay my bills and take my children to the doctor if they get sick.”
Candori said the deal had come about through negotiation and the intervention of elected officials. Both Herring and 32BJ praised Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling and State Sen. Bob Duff for their work to resolve the conflict. Bernardez also thanked city Common Council members Dave Watts and Eloisa Melendez, State Reps. Bruce Morris and Chris Perone, and community leader Warren Peña for their support of the workers.
Local 32BJ will drop the unfair labor practices complaint it filed with the federal government “as soon as everybody goes back to work,” said Candori.