On Monday about two dozen members of the Teamsters Union Local 456 gathered in front of Greenwich Town Hall to share a message with residents. Their labor contract with the town expired on June 30, 2019 and they say they seek a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement with “a reasonable pay increase.”
Louis Picani, president of the Local 456, said he didn’t believe residents were aware of the situation.
“We feel town hall is keeping it close to the vest. I don’t think any resident would put up with how they’re treating you during a pandemic,” he said, adding that Nathaniel Witherell staff were not allowed to take their own time to attend the rally.
“They’re showing that they think we’re not worth anything,” Picani added. “We keep Greenwich going. Without the work you do, Greenwich comes to a halt. …Nobody should be treated like this. When they have the wealth that is in this town, and they’re not willing. Those that are elected and appointed to the boards are keeping it from you. We’re not looking to get rich. We’re looking for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”
“Somebody has to take ownership, whether it’s the Selectmen, the BET or the RTM. We’re going to expose them, the hypocrites they are, for holding it back from you,” Picani added.
“It’s time now for the town administration, the First Selectman Fred Camillo, HR Director Mary Pepe and the town’s labor contracts committee to come forward with a reasonable offer to settle the stalemate. Let’s bring this to an end.”Roger Taranto, Business Agent, Teamsters Local 456
Roger Taranto said Local 456 members deserved a reasonable pay increase. He said they worked the frontlines throughout the pandemic to provide the townspeople essential services.
The town employees who are members of Local 456 include DPW workers, Nathaniel Witherell CNAs and LPNs,as well as those who work in food service delivering meals to the nursing home and those who work in the laundry. They include custodial staff and maintenance crews who clean and sanitize and maintain schools, public buildings including the public safety complex, senior center. Also, park gardeners and tree crews have worked to keep parks open through the pandemic, and snowplow drivers worked overnight clearing roads so first responders could do their jobs.
Taranto said during the pandemic, operators of the Grass Island Wastewater Treatment Plant monitored the town’s sewage, pulling samples and testing them to track Covid-19 exposure in the community.
Christopher Manuli, a custodian at Julian Curtiss School described working to clean and sanitize surfaces throughout the elementary school multiple times a day. He noted that unlike many towns, Greenwich offered in person learning at every building in September.
He said when schools initially closed in March 2020 because of Covid-19, not much was known about the virus, but custodians reported to work in person.
“We were cleaning top to bottom – closets, desks – anything left behind. Nobody knew what the virus was,” he said.
In September when students returned, he said guidelines changed sometimes weekly, sometimes daily, and that there was even more cleaning involved. “We have to clean bathrooms multiple times a day. We cleaned high-touch areas multiple times a day. We have to sanitize the building at the end of the day. One thing that was consistent was we came to work every day no matter what.”
Manuli noted that in Port Chester students just went back to their buildings last month.
Ironically, Manuli said his own children, age 6 and 4, were learning remotely in another district.
“All of us, regardless of the spread being high – all of us, whether it’s highway, parks, maintenance – we are here every day making this town run. All we want is a little piece of the pie and a fair contract.”
Taranto said the cost of living in Connecticut was higher than the national average including transportation, housing, utilities, groceries.
“Why are Greenwich real estate prices in Greenwich going up 22.5%?” he asked. “Because you have great amenities, parks, schools and roads. And granite curbs! This is what you guys do. This is what sells the town.”
He noted State frontline workers had received “combat bonuses.”
“While the accolades and praise for essential workers is appreciated, actions speak louder than words,” Taranto continued, adding, “The town of Greenwich is in sound financial shape. Covid-19 contributed to a real estate boom in Greenwich that has generated millions of dollars in conveyance fees and permitting fees for the town’s general fund.”
On Tuesday Greenwich First Selectman issued a statement in response to the Teamsters rally saying The Town of Greenwich respected all of its employees and their valuable service.
“Since early 2019, the Town and the Teamsters have met numerous times in contract negotiations and mediation in an attempt to settle the contract. Ultimately both sides could not reach agreement,” Camillo said. “We are following the established process in Connecticut and will participate in binding arbitration.
Camillo said what complicated the matter was that the Teamsters Union represented a diverse group of employees working in a variety of Town departments, including the only Town owned and operated short-term rehab, skilled nursing center and assisted living facility in the State of Connecticut, The Nathanial Witherell.
“A Health Dimensions Group (HDG) Report released in February 2019 provided several recommendations in regard to existing collective bargaining provisions that are not standard for long-term care facilities,” Camillo explained. “It is important both for the success of The Nathanial Witherell as well as for fairness to the taxpayers of the Town to align contract provisions to industry standards.”
Camillo said it was true that the Teamsters’ contract expired on June 30, 2019.
He noted, however, that Greenwich successfully settled three other contracts that expired on June 30, 2019, two of which represent employees who work at The Nathanial Witherell – Greenwich Municipal Employees Association (clerical and administrative) and Laborer’s International Union of North America (professional and supervisory) – as well as the United Public Service Employees Union (School and Public Health Nurses) contract.
“The Town settles contracts that are fair both to its employees as well as to the taxpayers of the Town and will pursue arbitration when needed,” Camillo added. “The Town respects the work of the Teamsters. However, the Town will not conduct contract negotiations in the press.”
The Teamsters Local 456 plans to rally at 7:00pm at Central Middle School on May 10, prior to the RTM meeting which will allow up to 100 people to attend in person.