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The workers had been replaced by non-union part-time workers who were employees of the Maritime Aquarium.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