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Standing Strong to Protect Our Rights at Work

There is arguably no clearer example of the “union difference” than the additional resources available to members faced with a hostile work environment. The power of these tools to hold employers accountable are further amplified by mobilizing the collective action made possible by contractual protections. All of this was on full display in a recent sweeping arbitration victory by affiliated PreK-12 union members that is the focus of our latest collective bargaining wins report.

Staff at Salem School began experiencing a combative working environment in the fall of 2021 with the arrival of a new district superintendent and promotion of the current principal. Matters came to a head the following fall when Mary Barone (in photo above, front row, third from left), a veteran teacher and president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated local union representing certified educators, was unjustly suspended.

Last spring, members of our Salem Federation of Teachers’ responded with a vote of “no confidence” in the administration and demanded school officials reverse a “pervasive culture of fear and intimidation.”

Click here for press coverage of the unprecedented action and the community support union members generated.

Instead of addressing educators and parents’ collective concerns, school officials renewed the superintendent’s contract.

Our local union’s vice president, who led the no confidence vote, was placed on leave, subjected to an investigation and ultimately suspended without pay. Three months following the vote, Barone’s employment was inexplicably terminated.

“Administration and the board of education (BOE) must be held accountable for their poor judgment and retaliatory actions,” she said. “The BOE and administration are responsible for the education of the children in the district,” added Barone, a math interventionist with nearly four decades of classroom experience.

To assure accountability and achieve justice, she appealed her termination and sought legal assistance from the law firm retained by AFT Connecticut. Over the course of several hearings, veteran attorney Eric W. Chester, Esq., presented clear evidence of the administration’s wrong-doing and exposed the superintendent’s anti-union animus.

Click here to learn more about the arbitration process at our website’s “Know Your Rights” page.

The neutral hearing officer’s sweeping ruling issued last month concluded with a clear recommendation to continue Barone’s employment. Instead of immediately seeking her return to the classroom, Salem School officials balked and hastily scheduled a “special” meeting to presumably review the matter.

Despite Barone and her colleagues mobilizing a show of force, school board members refused to act on the ruling. When they called another “special” meeting two weeks later, officials were met with an even larger crowd of union members and parents whose presence could not be ignored.

The following day, Barone received notice from the superintendent of her return to work.

“Mobilization at both special BOE meetings clearly had an impact on the decision to bring me back into the classroom,” she said. “Members voiced their opinions formally and informally – one actually told the BOE what was legal and what was not.”

Click here for press reporting on the arbitration win and Barone’s triumphant return to the classroom.

“I am so grateful for the support,” she added.

While her colleagues celebrate Barone’s win, they remain focused on justice for our local union’s vice president. At press time, he awaits an arbitration hearing where testimony will no doubt further expose the administration’s retaliatory conduct.

In the five months since our previous collective bargaining wins report was published in late October, six additional victories have been publicized. At press time, 11 additional agreements are in progress and will be announced on our state federation’s social media platforms once finalized.

Click here for the shout out to nurses in our Natchaug Hospital Unions United on their contract win.

Click here for our Johnson Memorial Hospital RNs union’s new agreement ratification announcement.

Click here for the promotion of our Waterford Federation of Classroom Teachers’ contract win.

Click here for photos of our VNASC union’s members voting to ratify their latest contract.

Click here for the graphic announcing our West Haven Federation of Teachers final contract approval.

Click here for the notice of our Windham Federation of Education Personnel’s new agreement.

Editor’s note: this report covers a five month period; the next report is scheduled for June and will resume the regular quarterly schedule.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connorhttp://aftct.org
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.
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