Why retired CT union leader thinks workers now have the upper hand

Perhaps more than most, Sal Luciano knows the stress that comes with working life, going back to his youth in Waterbury when his brother postponed his medical studies to help the family make ends meet, throughout his career. social worker helping children bounce back between foster homes. in Connecticut.

As Luciano retires from the state’s most important post in advancing workers’ rights – as president of the AFL-CIO of Connecticut – he believes labor has its best opportunity to reverse decades of leverage effect on wages, benefits and conditions of employment.

With higher union ranks in Connecticut during the COVID-19 pandemic – and possibly more on the horizon amid national efforts to organize Amazon and odd-job workers – the AFL -CIO of Connecticut recently installed the heads of its two regional labor councils to lead the statewide entity.

Ed Hawthorne replaces Luciano as president, with Shellye Davis becoming the first black woman chosen as executive vice president.

The changes in Connecticut follow the AFL-CIO’s selection of Oregon union organizer Liz Shuler as the first woman to lead the national organization. Fred Redmond becomes the first black secretary-treasurer, the second highest office in the AFL-CIO.

Luciano is retiring after three years at the helm of the AFL-CIO of Connecticut. He has spent much of the latter half of his tenure lobbying for employers to recognize the extraordinary contributions of their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by raising wages, granting time off when needed and ensuring that that protective equipment and policies are always ready.

But when asked to cite the biggest influence on the erosion of American blue-collar compensation during his professional career, Luciano believes it was the massive export of production over the years. time to countries where the costs are the lowest – and the infusion of this profit – first mentality in every corner of the company.

“These manufacturers felt that the workers were part of their family,” Luciano said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media. “If they had a good year, they would give workers a raise. They knew the names of their workers, they knew the names of their children. But he became unnamed. It became, ‘I don’t care about you – I don’t care if I dislodge your job or whatever. I can make five more dollars with a shovel.

Unions add 18K during COVID-19

States are now increasingly looking at the extreme of this trend – with companies classifying people as self-employed to avoid paying them benefits. Critics say the practice turns into abuse when a company effectively controls a worker’s hours, making them a captive employee with no legitimate options for finding support work.

This review coincides with a realization sweeping across boardrooms nationwide, that the international system of production and logistics that so many rely on cannot function as expected during a disruption like the pandemic. This spurs new investment in US facilities, whether for high-tech industries like chipmakers or in recycling facilities to handle waste.

The question is whether unions will be successful in these workplaces. Connecticut unions added 18,000 members last year, according to US Department of Labor estimates, a 7 percent increase that was the largest in five years and brought the total membership to 262,000 workers.

State-level estimates are based on surveys, with small states experiencing greater hazards in numbers than large states or the nation as a whole. DOL surveys consider 2017 to be the peak year of union membership in Connecticut for the past two decades, with approximately 278,000 members. The number of members reached its lowest point in 2013 with around 207,000 members.

Connecticut’s AFL-CIO generated $ 1.5 million in revenue in 2019, according to its latest annual report filed with the Internal Revenue Service, including nearly $ 1.3 million in dues. Luciano’s compensation was $ 143,000 that year.

Under the slogan “Striketober”, the AFL-CIO tried to get more people to join unions, drawing attention to picket lines outside the factories of John Deere, Kellogg’s and several other employers. .

Of a dozen active strikes nationwide this year involving 1,000 or more workers, Charter Communications employees in New York and New Jersey have held the longest going back three years, totaling more than two million days d inactivity for the Stamford-based cable operator.

Connecticut union members who work for Frontier Communications voted last month to allow a strike, while continuing to work on the terms of a contract that expired amid negotiations. And the Service Employees International Union is in the fourth week of a home strike in Sunrise Northeast in Connecticut.

“One of the things that has happened through COVID is that we have seen who the essential workers are – that has all changed,” Luciano said. “Now you add bus drivers to that, now you add people who stock the shelves in the grocery store.”

Luciano still remembers the support of many Connecticut residents during a 2017 strike by Stop & Shop members in Connecticut, including members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters whose union quit the AFL-CIO ago. at 15. He said that regardless of his affiliation, his best memories of his days as a union leader will be the people who bridge the differences to strive for the same goal of improving the livelihoods of all.

“My motto is, ‘Let’s make the tent bigger,’ you know? Luciano said. “It’s easy to divide, it’s easy to destroy. It’s hard to build, it’s hard to unify people.

“Get up and go to work”

The organization has been a leading voice in Hartford advocating for the rights of “frontline” workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Member unions represent workers in a number of occupations at higher risk of exposure to the virus, from healthcare to education and retail.

Speaking to members of the Connecticut General Assembly in February, Luciano highlighted the lingering problem of mental health amid the pandemic and the work of many workers.

“It was almost like in prehistoric times – it’s like, ‘What do you mean, are you mentally ill? Get up and go to work, ”said Luciano, summing up the pressure some workers are facing. “There was a real blindness to it. “

Representing the Connecticut AFL-CIO members, Luciano has lobbied a number of other issues in recent years, from a minimum wage of $ 15 to extended paid leave for workers.

That job now falls to Hawthorne, who is Connecticut’s youngest AFL-CIO president, but brings extensive experience as president of the Western Connecticut Area Labor Federation and vice president of Federation Local 269. American state, county and municipal employees. His membership in AFSCME stems from previous employment as a hearing officer for the state Department of Labor, with Hawthorne holding a law degree from SUNY-Buffalo.

Davis is president of the Eastern Connecticut Area Labor Federation, as well as the Hartford Federation of Paraeducators affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the largest national union of 57 members of the AFL-CIO.

“What I learned from Sal is to really listen – then develop a really good strategy rather than just react,” said Hawthorne. “You have to listen to everyone and you have to find a way to bring everyone together – and that is really what Sal is best. Solidarity and unity are synonymous with Sal Luciano.

Includes previous reports by Julia Bergman and Ken Dixon.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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