Shelton union workers demand Lauretti end contract stalemate

SHELTON — City workers with Teamsters Local 145, joined by fellow Teamsters and supporters, gathered in front of City Hall Thursday, calling on the administration to finally agree on a new contract. 

Members and supporters carried signs reading “City Workers Deserve to Retire with Dignity,” “Essential Workers Deserve Respect,” and “Mayor Lauretti: Stop Threatening City Workers” as speakers demanded the city negotiate with the union, which has been without a contract for more than four years. 

"This action holds (Mayor Mark) Lauretti accountable and demonstrates that we're not afraid of him,” said Dennis Novak, Local 145 secretary-treasurer. 

“These actions bring public awareness to his anti-union tactics, his disregard for city workers and the negative implications this has for city government — both fiscally, and in terms of municipal services,” Novak said. “The more voters see what's going on, the more pressure there will be to settle this contract in a fair manner." 

Novak then called on Lauretti and the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration to settle their collective bargaining agreement so the workers can get the “wages and benefits they deserve.” 

The group — more than 50 people — gathered in front of City Hall as Lauretti convened the November meeting of the Board of Aldermen. No discussion was held during the meeting about Teamsters Local 154 — which represents workers with the water pollution treatment plant and highways and bridges — or the contract situation. 

“I have been doing contracts for 30 years and we've never had anything like this,” Lauretti said after the meeting, passing blame for delays on Novak. “They want to call me the bully because they can’t bully me.” 

Amid the negotiations — or lack thereof — Lauretti last week sent a payment to each employee covering pay increases of between 1.75 percent and 2.5 percent, dating back to the 2017-18 budget years. 

“I believe that it represents .25 percent difference between my last offer to your union representative over a year ago,” Lauretti said in the letter sent to the union employees dated Nov. 4. “Please know that I realize the current state of our economy has presented some challenges to the working residents of our country, which includes you.” 

Lauretti noted that the union members’ last pay increase was June 30, 2018, before stating that the “system has failed you.” 

Novak countered saying that Lauretti is "the system,” and that it was he who has failed the workers. 

Matt McQuaid, a spokesperson for the union, said Lauretti providing the checks was “breaking the rules by direct bargaining,” but the employees have every right to cash the checks. 

Union attorney Chip Walsh confirmed that the Teamsters have filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city with the State Labor Board in response to the checks. 

Lauretti said in his view the sides are not far apart but “union games” have delayed the process. 

“We’ve never had this situation before," Lauretti said about the Teamsters 145 contract. "Before (Novak) showed up, we always had a contract.” 

Lauretti pointed to the police union, which had no contract for some three years. He said when new elections were held and new leadership was in place, a deal was struck. Lauretti said the deal was the identical deal he had offered three years previously. 

George Quadretti, longtime city worker and senior custodian, said the situation has gone on long enough. 

“Each side blames the other, they all blame the arbitrator,” Quadretti said. “I know who is not to blame and that is us, the workers."

Quadretti said there was a lot of apathy with the workers, who have come to feel nothing would ever get done.

“There are low taxes in this city," he said. "These residents want their streets plowed, that’s our guys; they want their parks taken care of, that’s our guys; they want their buildings clean, that’s our guys. We want this over with. It has gone on way too long, and we’ve had enough.” 

David Eldridge, a member of Local 1150 and former mayoral candidate who lost to Lauretti in 2021, called on the Board of Aldermen to step in to get this deal done. 

This is the latest in what has been a protracted battle between Lauretti and the Teamsters Local 145. 

Last month, the New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund, which represents Teamsters Union 145, brought a suit against the city, claiming that the administration failed to properly fund six union workers' retirement plans 

The fund, which represents Teamsters Union 145, filed the lawsuit on Oct. 24. It seeks to recoup the unfunded retirement contributions, interest, liquidated damages and legal fees, according to court documents.  

The total owed as of late August is $5,689, McQuaid said. The contributions go toward six Teamsters Local 145 members employed by the city at the water pollution control facility. The union has 33 total members, but the other members are part of a separate pension plan, McQuaid said. 

The city has been on the receiving end of other unfair labor practice complaints, Novak said, including at least one instance where a state labor board found Lauretti threatened city workers for seeking to join the union. 

“It’s time for the city to do the right thing,” said Rocco Calo, principal officer of Teamsters Local 1150, Industrial Trades Division Director, and IBT Eastern Region Vice President. “There are 30 workers here that have been working without a contract for well over four years. It is ridiculous. It’s a disgrace.” 

Calo said the workers were deemed essential during the pandemic and deserve to be taken care of. 

"I represent Sikorsky Aircraft, 4,000 members, and we are going to ratify our contract two months early,” Calo said. “There is no reason that can’t happen here. It is one nonsense stall tactic after another."

But, Calo said, the union workers weren't going to go away.

“We’re here today. If we have to make their lives miserable, that is what we’re going to do until our brothers and sisters get what they deserve," he said.