Most janitors given jobs back as Maritime Aquarium renews contract with cleaning service

Erika Aguilera, center, protests along with other laid-off members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) recently outside the Maritime Aquarium.

NORWALK, Conn. – It appears that efforts to draw attention to recently laid-off union janitors has worked – they are getting their jobs back. Many of them will again be cleaning the Maritime Aquarium. Others will be placed in other locations by their employer, Premier Maintenance.

“I’m glad the Aquarium has decided to stand with us, because we have always done our best for the Aquarium,” said Erika Aguilera, a mother of two who had worked at the aquarium for 14 years, in a statement. “I had not been able to find another job. I’m relieved that I can pay my bills and take my children to the doctor if they get sick.”

The deal was announced at a 9 a.m. Thursday press conference. The press conference was announced to this reporter in an email received at 9:11 a.m.

The members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were laid off on Dec. 31 after the Maritime Aquarium ended its contract with Premier Maintenance. They were never employees of the aquarium, but some local politicians joined in a protest outside the aquarium’s doors. The workers made appearances at two Common Council meeting, with the result that a new lease for the aquarium was tabled.

The workers had been replaced by non-union part-time workers who were employees of the Maritime Aquarium.

“The Maritime Aquarium expects to retain many of the part-time workers it hired several weeks ago after Premier Maintenance was terminated. Premier Maintenance has agreed to make good faith efforts to place the remainder in other locations as jobs open up,” Aquarium President Jennifer Herring said in a statement. “We are grateful for the efforts of many people, including members of our Board, the City of Norwalk and our State Legislators, who helped achieve this result.”

“In December, the Aquarium ended its cleaning contract with PMI after 18 years and replaced the cleaners with mostly part-time workers making poverty wages and no health care insurance, paid sick days or any other benefits. They told the workers who lost their jobs that they would not be considered for employment as long as they remained members of 32BJ,” a statement from 32BJ said.

“The Aquarium’s decision is proof that the Norwalk community will stand up and do the right thing when economic justice is concerned,” said Alberto Bernardez, Connecticut District Assistant Leader for 32BJ SEIU, which represents the cleaners, in the 32BJ statement. “I’m proud of my brothers and sisters who stood firm in defense of their rights, and of all the allies who stood right beside them.”

Both Bernardez and Herring thanked the leaders who helped them reach a deal, Mayor Harry Rilling and state Sen. Bob Duff (D- Norwalk). Bernardez also thanked “the elected officials who supported the workers”: Council members David Watts and Eloisa Melendez, state Reps. Bruce Morris and Chris Perone, and former council member and community leader Warren Peña, along with Rilling and Duff.

“This truly demonstrates that we can accomplish great things together,” Herring said. “Working together, we look forward to continuing our important roles as the premier provider of informal science education in the State, helping to close the achievement gap, and as Connecticut’s second-largest family tourist attraction, bringing $42 million of economic impact to the state every year.”


16 responses to “Most janitors given jobs back as Maritime Aquarium renews contract with cleaning service”

  1. no

    This result angers me. Why did the city and state stick up for cleaning crews, when the aquarium hires 30 part time educators, instead of fewer fulltime educators? This staff works directly with the public and students, yet makes little pay and receives no benefits. These are college graduates struggling to survive in one of the most expensive parts of the country doing what they love.

  2. Not right

    Never going back to the aquarium. Ditto to what “no” said.

  3. Kevin Di Mauro

    I still think Jennifer Herring is totally clueless, but better late than never.

    Hey Jennifer, when are you going to bring back the wing-sail catamaran Patient Lady V ?

  4. spanner

    Hats off to Premier Maintenace -AffinEco’s decision to relocate to Bridgeport is indicative of a trend of more businesses moving into the city than moving out, which is a reversal of what was happening here a few years ago. In the past month alone, we’ve been engaged with five companies planning to move to here,” said Timpanelli. “When the leadership of a business decides to reach into its pocket and make a personal investment in the city, it’s a show of faith in Bridgeport’s economic future and confidence in opportunities here. And that is a vital signal to the community that we’re turning things around–that the city is on the rise.”

    You figure once they left Norwalk working out things here where they started in 1966 was the right thing to do.

  5. the donut hole

    Not renewing either. 10 year member. Bye bye.

  6. LWitherspoon

    Overspending our tax dollars must not be a full-time job, since Norwalk’s elected officials have enough free time to beat up a non-profit attempting to save a little money by paying market rates for cleaning services.
    In the meantime, at $13.35 per hour the Maritime Aquarium’s custodians earn about half of what custodians at the Board of Ed appear to earn. Perhaps in the coming weeks our elected officials could use some of their free time to explain that discrepancy.

  7. Bill

    Jesus Christ people, when are the nut job local dems going to wake up and smell the coffee. We only have so much money to waste and paying janitors subsidized wages is not a priority. If the cost of living is so high, they can always move back to their home country or to another low cost of living state.

  8. Dawn

    I cannot figure out why the heat was on the Aquarium in the first place.
    The people who should have been spoken to were Premiere. They took no heat and have not placed all the workers.
    But tha’s ok

    The Aquarium did what we all need to do. tighten out belts. no one in government knows how to do that.
    i am upset that the Aquarium caved. I wish i knew what threats were made.

  9. There is just SO much wrong with this all around – Rilling, Duff and the unions.
    The Maritime center is the victim here with the “… rolls downhill” effect – us being the ultimate victims because then we get to pay EVEN HIGHER entrance fees.
    Yup, Bernardez’s “brothers and sisters” (what is meant by THAT?) will benefit while the paying community will pay the consequences.
    There is also so much wrong with Duff’s priorities to his constituents. But just a warning, he is going after the Latino vote and this is one his first moves. He should not be reelected in case anyone forgets the NEON fiasco which he is TRYING to distant himself from at an alarming pace (but wait for “anything good” that might come out of it and he will be the first “ugly mug” in the shot in front. Talk about backroom deals for those photo ops).
    BOYCOTT THE MARITIME and spare ourselves being held hostage to the unions – WE ARE NOT THE VICTIMS HERE. (but the union workers will always get paid….)
    Don’t vote for Duff in the next election – see what he is NOT doing for you.

    This comment has been edited for language.

  10. It also seems like NoN is giving Rilling a free pass in her writings – No more “indignation” or “investigative reporting” from her about what Rilling does (“paybacks to the unions? nah, it’s HARRY for gosh sakes, the people’s mayor”)
    Yup, NoN – way to show your true colors (knew it wouldn’t be long).

  11. WOW!

    Hey Bill:
    Since you addressed Him by name, I’m sure Jesus Christ would disagree with your suggestion of “moving back to their home country or to another low cost of living state.” “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” That is, unless you’re willing to move there with them. Now, there’s a thought!

  12. Well, maybe not JC but for the rest of the non-Latino population…”remember, brothers and sisters, we can get America in a stronghold by unionizing and higher birth rate because the children will be citizens even if the parents aren’t and then they can band together with their (illegal) votes.”
    It seems to be the path but right now, only a “prediction”….

  13. Mike Mushak

    Great solution reached! I applaud all of the politicians who understood the real issues here. Where were all of the folks who are posting against this decision when the Aquarium was forgiven $30 million in debt to Norwalk taxpayers? I recall a lot of silence. I supported that move as it is a vital institution that generates $40 million a year in economic activity and spearheaded the revival of Sono, but I did not like what they did to these dedicated hard-working janitors who were making just $13.50 an hour, as if that was somehow going to destroy the aquarium’s budget. Give me a break! This was more about union busting then anything else.
    On the other hand, I agree with LWitherspoon and Piberman that city janitors should make comparable wages to the private sector. When did we ever agree that a public sector job meant lifetime security regardless of performance, and raises every year even in a recession? That is definitely union overreach. The same approach taken to balance competing interests in the aquarium episode should be applied to City Hall, as taxpayers’ interests seem to have been forgotten about. Great letter in the Hour today by Mr. Berman on this same subject.
    However, in this particular case, politicians did the right thing and stood up for an injustice that hurt folks on the lowest rung of our economic ladder who were mistreated over a few bucks an hour. I hope that our officials will now look at the management of the aquarium to find and help fix any structural deficiencies that led to the initial decision.

  14. bill

    @Mushak, “When did we ever agree that a public sector job meant lifetime security regardless of performance, and raises every year even in a recession? That is definitely union overreach.” We actually agree on something. Glad to see common sense people can agree that we cannot pay people above market rates on salaries while also giving them below market rates on housing. Too much of this trend and we will end up like Bridgeport, i.e. middle class people moving to surrounding cities (no tax base) with a hollowed out city trying to finance high public sector union salaries while also giving subsidies to “poor” people so they can live in cities they should never even consider being a part of.

  15. anonymous

    Rilling paid back some union promises. Duff wants votes. The American way of free enterprise and economics was bullied into submission. The aquarium should not have backed down. Depressing state of affairs in Norwalk.


    Man… You are all a bunch of cry babies!

    Find your pacifiers and calm down!

    If it weren’t for Rilling and Duff, Norwalk would collapse!

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