Updated, 6:33 p.m., statement from Jennifer Herring
NORWALK, Conn. – A vote on a new lease for the Maritime Aquarium was postponed Tuesday night to give Common Council members time to look into claims that nine people had been laid off from their jobs cleaning the aquarium because they are union members.
“They hired new people,” Erika Aguilera said to the council. “We applied but they didn’t take anybody. The reason is because we are union members.”
Carmen Sargent of the Service Employees International Union also talked to the council.
“Good paying jobs are some things (that are) very important for a city,” she said. “These workers have lost their jobs, have lost their income, have lost their health insurance. These people are going to become a burden to the city of Norwalk.”
The vote on the lease was tabled until the next council meeting.
Mayor Harry Rilling said he wanted to meet with the laid-off workers.
“Sorry for your job loss, I really am. I know it’s very difficult,” he said to the group during a recess. “We’ll sit in my office. I know David Watts came to me and was very interested and very upset with what happened. We’ll bring David in and have a nice meeting with David and Donna King, my city clerk.”
Aguilera said she is from Honduras and had worked at the Aquarium for 14 years. They were all laid off Dec. 31 with no warning, she said.
“Because we are union we are good paid, we have benefits and they hired in new people,” she said. The jobs are no longer full time. “They don’t pay benefits. That is the reason, they want to save money.”
Aquarium press contact Dave Sigworth released the following statement, quoting President Jennifer Herring:
“Because of current dynamic, changing conditions, the Aquarium has decided to move the maintenance/cleaning of the facility ‘in-house,’ as opposed to using an outside vendor.
“The Maritime Aquarium seeks to operate efficiently and economically, in part by using outside vendors as infrequently as possible. For example, the Aquarium prefers to create and design marketing campaigns ‘in-house,’ where we previously relied upon outside ad agencies. And, where possible, we design and build our exhibits in-house.”