A conflict between the Mayor’s Office and Local 3144, the union that represents over 460 New Haven employees in supervisory and management roles, escalated to new levels as all 10 city employee layoffs in 2016 were from that union.
Last December, the New Haven Health Department discontinued its Syringe Services Program, and as a result the city terminated three SSP employees who were members of Local 3144. According a Dec. 14 letter from Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, the city health department requested to transfer SSP to the Yale School of Medicine, arguing that the current funding does not permit further operations.
Still, the city’s decision to lay off three SSP workers was met with firm criticism from Local 3144 president and 32-year city employee Cherlyn Poindexter, who believed that the health department should not have terminated the employees. She said that a partnership between the medical school and SSP would have prevented the layoffs.
“[SSP’s transferral] could have been done with a better manner,” Poindexter said.
These were also not the only layoffs that Local 3144 suffered in 2016. Among New Haven’s 14 unions covering city department employees from all walks of life, Local 3144 lost a total of 10 members, bearing all the employment termination issued by the city government last year, according to Poindexter.
According to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer, individual city departments like the health department make staffing decisions based on their needs. He added that no single bargaining unit is being targeted.
Conflict between the union and city also extends past last year. Local 3144 is currently in arbitration with Mayor Toni Harp’s administration due to a 2015 petition filed by City Hall to the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations requesting that the board clarify the classification of Local 3144 members. The petition effectively called into question whether all members of Local 3144 hold supervisory and management positions, or whether some members would be part of another bargaining unit.
In response, in May 2015 Poindexter wrote to her constituents that the city’s intent is “to break up Local 3144 by ‘carving out’ a significant number of our union members and replacing them in another bargaining unit,” according to her letter.
But Grotheer said Harp’s petition merely asked the state labor board to weigh in on the issue.
“The city asked the state to assist,” Grotheer said. “So the mayor is not making any determinants along those lines.”
Poindexter said she is disappointed by the course of action that Harp pursued, especially as a founding member of Local 3144. She added that Harp’s petition made little sense because union leadership does not have the ability to choose which members to represent.
According to Poindexter, when city departments post employment opportunities, the job description includes information about union representation. If Local 3144 has no voice in determining who to represent and subject to the city’s arrangement, Poindexter claimed that Harp should impose a hiring freeze before questions about whether certain city employees belong in the union are addressed.
“If this petition is out there, why don’t you fix this problem?” Poindexter said.
Harp’s petition was filed two months before the city’s contract with Local 3144 ended. After almost two years of bargaining, Local 3144 still does not have a newly signed contract, according to Poindexter. She added that the terms of bargaining dictate that the director of labor relations negotiates on behalf of City Hall, a position that has been vacant since last April after Harp fired the former director, Marcus Paca.
Grotheer said the role of labor relations director is currently filled by the collective forces of the city’s Department of Human Resources, the Office of Corporation Counsel and outside counsel.
The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations is still deciding on Harp’s clarification petition.