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Proving “Our Determination” at the Negotiating Table

The City of Bristol’s professional employees over the summer reached an initial settlement on a new four-year agreement with the administration of Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu (center in photo, above). The seeds of the win were in 2017 planted by union members who volunteered for labor-organized political activities that led to a change in mayoral administration.
 
“We got behind a mayor and some great city councilors who actually support working people,” said William Wolfe (second from left), who serves as the fleet manager for the city’s public works department. “Now at city hall, there’s an ‘open door policy’ where we can have real conversations,” added Wolfe, the former president of our Bristol Professionals and Supervisors Association (BPSA).
 
Following ratification and approval of that “first round of a two-part contract,” Wolfe and bargaining team members secured additional wage gains for their colleagues.
 
“Since 2008, all municipal workers have fallen off their wage schedules,” said Wolfe. “Kudos to Ellen, who agreed to put some savings into remedying the inequities.”
 
Click here for local reporting on the initial agreement reached with city officials featuring the mayor’s comments.
 
Wolfe added that their two-part negotiations were an “‘all-in’ team effort,” and additionally hinged on AFT Connecticut’s professional staff. The guidance that Rep Mike Ozga (third from left) provided to the bargaining team was “essential to the process,” according to Wolfe.
 
The contract’s additional salary gains were in September approved by the city council. Bargaining team members earlier this month met with the comptroller and mayor to sign the document.
 
Education personnel in Colchester Public Schools last month ratified a new four-year contract following months of drawn-out negotiations with their district’s administration. Membership engagement and activism made the victory possible and set the stage for a more positive relationship with school officials going forward.
 
“We proved our determination,” said Lorraine Westermeyer, a special education paraeducator at Colchester Elementary School, on the key lesson of their successful effort. “We stood together, we fought and did not give up,” added Westermeyer, the president of our Colchester Federation of Education Personnel.
 
As negotiations dragged on over the summer and into the new school year, rank-and-file members attended board of eduction (BOE) meetings to protest the slow pace of talks. Officials took notice and have since privately met with union leadership to account for their delays.
 
“We have a very strong team that reflects the commitment of our whole membership of just over 100,” added Westermeyer. “We weren’t just ‘individualizing’ any wants or needs; we focused on the wants and needs of the majority,” she said.
 
While the new contract includes a number of significant gains — notably, wage increases for each year of the agreement — Westermeyer said “job security is the number one benefit.”
 
The bargaining team successfully blocked a sub-contracting proposal put forward by the BOE that would have eliminated food service workers’ positions. The team also fended-off attempts to gut contractual protections for paraeduators after maintaining a strong resistance to the scheme all the way through mediation. 
 
Click here for a photo of Westermeyer and bargaining team members meeting after the school board’s approval of the contract.
 
Successful collective bargaining efforts like those achieved by our members in Bristol and Colchester typically provide multiple takeaways that can be adapted and adopted by other local affiliates. Both of this latest report’s examples offer solid blueprints for tapping the strength of the “U and I in Union” to win strong contracts in challenging political and economic climates.
 
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