Norwalk Pols mum on Maritime Aquarium details

Former council member and community leader Warren Peña, left, demonstrates on Feb. 8 with and for laid-off members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) outside the Maritime Aquarium.

NORWALK, Conn. – No promises were made in the course of working out an arrangement that allows Norwalk union members to get back to work cleaning the Maritime Aquarium, state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) said.

The aquarium has renewed its contract with Premier Maintenance, which had supplied cleaning services to the aquarium for 18 years, after saying it could no longer afford the company. Members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are therefore going back to work for Premier Maintenance and will be cleaning the aquarium again, according to press releases sent Thursday. The aquarium will also retain some of the part time workers it had hired to replace the union workers.

The union workers will get the same pay they got before, a union member said in a published report.

No one is saying how those financial gymnastics were worked out.

“Senator Duff can answer those questions best. … This was mostly a result of his efforts,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email.

“A lot of us worked hard over many months,” Duff said. “I started on this issue since last April and have been working closely with the aquarium and the union members to bring about a successful resolution.”

Asked if the aquarium received any additional state dollars or had been told that it wouldn’t get something if the workers were not reinstated, Duff said, “I would say neither. No promises have been made.”

Former council member and community leader Warren Peña thanked the many people who were involved in the “collaborative effort” that “demonstrates how we can do business better”: Council members David Watts (D-District A), Jerry Petrini (R-District D), John Igneri (D-District E), Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B), Rilling and Maritime Aquarium leaders.

“I am thrilled and excited for the service workers that regained their jobs,” he wrote in an email. “… I am however concerned of a short-term fix, that may not be sustainable in 18 months.  I hope all stakeholders take a balanced approach to resolve the long-term issue. I am cognizant of the financial aspect here and the concept of working more efficiently with limited resources.”

Peña also thanked the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC), LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Council 703 and 32BJ for “bringing attention to this matter,” a reference to appearances at two Common Council meetings and a protest outside the aquarium.

“It was a community effort that opened the door for a much more respectful dialogue,” Peña wrote. “Frankly, that was the point.  We can have better conversations; we can treat each other with dignity and respect so that our community thrives.  As you saw at the rally that Councilman Watts and I helped organize, it takes all members of our community to stand together when we see inequity, regardless of background. When we stand together, we can accomplish positive outcomes. I believe it was persistency and ‘love for the job’ that made it possible for this to happen.”

He slammed Duff, who was not present for any of the demonstrations.

“If it were not for the demonstration and hard work done by others, Duff would have left it as he said, ‘it costs society in the long run’ and would have moved on,” Peña wrote.

Duff did not respond to that comment.


32 responses to “Norwalk Pols mum on Maritime Aquarium details”

  1. Joe Espo

    OK Senetor Bob and Mayor Harry: We want the details on the financial gymnastics!!! There’s public money for a public agency on city owned property that’s involved here. Don’t you dare try to pull the wool over our eyes and cover it up. Tell us NOW, unless you want to invite an investigation. And I’m calling upon our republican representatives to help us smoke out the dirty details.

  2. lifelong teacher

    Ridiculous. What’s next?

  3. loveforthecity

    Duff is a joke! Everyone in the city knows he set up a press conference with Perone and Morris to take credit for something they had nothing to do with. Boy do I hope Norwalk gets rid of all 3 of these guys. They embarrass our city and it is time to move on.

  4. anonymous

    Ditto, ridiculous, what’s next.

  5. Casey Smith

    The aquarium will also retain some of the part time workers it had hired to replace the union workers.

    Okay…so does this mean that some staff members who were hired to replace the cleaning crew lost their jobs? I’d also be interested in knowing if the re-hired workers and those who were let go were Norwalk residents.

  6. John Hamlin

    This makes the left wing of the Democratic party feel good. But it does nothing to change the economic landscape in the City. Don’t kid yourselves.

  7. NorwalkVoter

    Good job Senator Duff and Mayor Rilling. Real leaders come to the table and talk without rancor. All sides are heard.

    ‘Bomb throwing’ and threats are not the key to a settlement. Now the Aquarium and the workers can proceed with their jobs respectfully and peacefully. Norwalk wins. Thank you for your leadership.

  8. spanner

    Lets first say our own council members took this on first and ran with it,the ball was stripped by the old players and and a touch down was made.

    The slam dunk came when Michael Diamond who is principle in the corporation probably was convinced after the company started in 1966 in Norwalk and has a partial client list of
    Public and private schools, Colleges and universities, Government facilities
    Hospitals,Healthcare Facilities playing nice was the way to go.

    In the past several years (United-Premeir)they have developed new products and processes which have allowed Green Cleaning to be done more effectively; this is accomplished in a cost-neutral manner. Their program is good for the environment and the occupants of buildings, a true winning combination!(sounds familier)

    This reminds me when our schools were on this kick and bought into chemicals like this for Norwalk schools correct me if I’m wrong it was a news item help me out who was involved?Who was in the news working green initiatives at the time for the good of Norwalk?

    Even if I’m wrong speculating,when things were not transparent for the Democrtats they were always the first to shout accountability but its odd now the ones in charge no longer think the taxpayers deserve it.This whole shell game took away from what Warren Dave and all the rest was trying to do for a handful of people who work hard not to mention one woman is a friend of mine I’m grateful.I’m not complaining about intervention nor am I saying other pay scales don’t need adjusting I’m simply saying pro active is better than what Norwalk has had in the past.When a city cant create jobs saving some is better than nothing its a start.

    Then we have those wondering where are those detractors when loans were not paid but are quiet right now,after millions were given to the Aquarium,loans were paid back to the city we went on.What about the programs that are free at the other Aquarium in Ct for children what about the State money there in Mystic does it match what Norwalk has recieved over the years?

    My kids and others have enjoyed the Aquarium,we have relatives from NY that have had children stay over night in programs that have been most memorable at the Aquarium but when what seems back room politics appear in the mix it takes away from all the good that the Aquarium plays in Norwalks future.

    We need to look at some of our politicians and those riding the wave at the taxpayers expense.There are some of us who still want a say on how the city grows and that sentiment doesn’t come from a book or some study.

  9. spanner

    silly me cost-nuetral is how Michael Diamond descrbes cleaning supplies on his web site,what a coincidence that he is a principal in Premier Maintenance the ones who developed some green cleaning agents.

    Norwalk – Implementing a school cleaning plan that uses only certified “green” products not only prevents harmful exposure to chemicals, but also could save school districts money, says state Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk).

    Joined by advocates and educators at Brookside School in Norwalk this morning, Senator Duff detailed his support of proposed legislation that would require the state’s school districts to implement a “green cleaning program”—a program that would be either COST-NUETRAL or offer cost-saving for districts around Connecticut.

    “Switching from traditional cleaning products makes sense for health and environmental reasons, but it also makes sense for financial reasons,” Senator Duff said. “Several states—including Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Vermont— have instituted plans that use green products and are cost-neutral or have saved districts thousands of dollars. Santa Monica, California, for example, actually documented a five percent savings after switching to green products and eliminated the use of 3,200 pounds of hazardous materials. This is something we’re already implementing in our state buildings, so it makes a lot of sense to start phasing-in these same policies in our public schools.”

    Under House Bill 6496, An Act Concerning Green Cleaning Products in Schools, each local or regional board of education in the state would be required to phase-in a green cleaning program for all school buildings and facilities in its district by October 1, 2011.

    Wonder if this bill ever passed? Good for Bob always looking out for us in Norwalk.

  10. NorwalkVoter

    you are right, ‘Warren Dave’ like to shout on the street, but other Leaders worked it out and found the solution. Give credit where it is due. Sounds like perhaps some were happy with the disruption and not the solution.

  11. the donut hole

    I believe there were no promises. But, only a fool would think there were no threats made. Now that I have a better idea of how money is wasted at the aquarium it was an easy decision to not renew for next year. Hopefully they will learn their lesson and try to become self sufficient instead of having to be in bed with the free handouts crowd.

  12. loveforthecity

    The shouting on the street is what made these people sit down to figure this out. The only reason why others worked it out is because part of the solution was to bring awareness to the public. Whether you like how it is done is another thing. Your so called leaders walked away from the issue until council people got involved.

  13. Bruce Kimmel

    I commend our mayor and state legislators for resolving this difficult labor issue. What seems to have been forgotten is the role of the Norwalk Common Council, which refused to renew the Aquarium’s lease until the labor issue was worked out. The new lease is on the agenda for our March 11 meeting. Now, I believe, it will be approved.

  14. the donut hole

    So Norwalk gets to subsidize the aquarium with our tax dollars. And Norwalk residents don’t even get a discount. And now the Maritime will have to raise rates to pay for overpriced labor and you can thank our elected officials for doing this.

  15. longtime resident

    Duff says that there were no promises or threats, but the lease was withheld by the common council until the problem settled. Sounds more like blackmail or coercion to me. And I don’t think it is anything to be proud of.

    Since when can an organization be prevented from terminating an outside contractor, one it can no longer afford?

    Premier Maintenance is a huge organization with hundreds of customers. Surely they could have absorbed these workers into their system.

  16. Kevin Di Mauro

    Thank you Bruce Kimmel for pointing out that the Aquarium’s lease was at stake. I was not aware of that, and from what I’ve read thus far the lease renewal was probably the deciding factor in settling this issue rather the public demonstration or any behind the scenes deals.

    Also, thanks to the common consul for withholding the renewal until the issue was settled. There seems to some serious management problems at the Aquarium, and renewing a lease under these circumstances would really have been foolhardy. This incident should never have gotten to this point.

  17. Joe Espo

    @Longtime: rumors are flying around like drones over Afghanistan that it was Councilman Kimmel who held the lease hostage. He was the swing vote in the Republican caucus. The dems, of course, were delighted to put the screws to the Aquarium’s bottom line and anyone else’s for the sake of the union and latino vote. And Councilman Kimmel loves unions and pensions; he’s retired on a fat NYC teacher’s pension himself. The Mayor loves pensions, too; he’s retired on two Norwalk pensions. It seems that this town will be run into the ground by pensions; that’s why it’s being run by the SEIU, the NFT, the NASA and every other union that wants to stick its fingers in our pockets. The pension nut is what’s going to kill us. Have no fear that we’ll become Bridgeport; have fear that we’ll become Detroit.

  18. Joe Espo

    @Di Mauro: I think your thanks are misplaced. Do you get the implications of holding back on the lease? NO AQUARIUM!!!. That’s right: the SEIU coalition on the Council was willing to evict the Aquarium- the region’s premier tourist and educational attraction and chase it and all it’s marine life inventory out of town, just for the sake of a few janitorial jobs. So disgusting; so beneath contempt.

  19. According to Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, Mayor Harry Rilling gets one pension.

    “As a non-public safety city employee, Mayor Rilling is a participant in the city’s 401a Defined Contribution Plan (we closed the city defined benefit pension plan to new hires effective July 1, 2012, so unlike Mayor Moccia, Mayor Rilling is not a participant in the city defined benefit pension plan),” Hamilton wrote in an email response to our inquiry. “The city puts in 5 percent of salary, and the employee must match the 5 percent. The employee vests in the city’s contribution after five years of service. If the employee leaves prior to five years, then the employee forfeits the city’s contribution (i.e. – the contribution is returned to the city).”

    That would mean that, if Rilling serves only two terms as mayor, he would not receive any additional city-funded pension. If he were to serve three terms, he would be vested and receive the city-funded position.

    “Mayor Rilling’s Police Pension is not affected by his employment as mayor (i.e. – he does not earn additional credit on that pension),” Hamilton said.

  20. DuffHatesNorwalk

    Duff has done thing but vote against the working class. He did the press conference because that Navarro kid is taking his spot light. Just to show you what big ego he has. The Mayor went from one paycheck to another that all. Morris was there because he does nothing in Hartford. Perone what has done for Norwalk. Simple answer nothing. These guys are cancer to this city. They will destroy this city by making us into the New Bridgeport.
    That’s why I can’t wait to hear what Navarro, Pena, and Watts have to bring to Norwalk. We need new faces in Hartford if not we will still being losing on those table. These guys are Cancer. That why I will vote against them. It is time to push Norwalk Forward again. NOT BACKWARDS.

  21. Bruce Kimmel

    Norwalk’s pension costs are going down because of our switch from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan for all new city employees. That probably means, moving forward, we will not find ourselves in the same predicament that other cities have experienced. For example, in last year’s budget debate we had to address a 34% jump in pension costs; this year, it was 19%, but next year the increase, if there is one, will be minimal; in fact, they might be flat. We have also addressed healthcare costs by moving to Health Savings Accounts and increasing premium payments from our employees. We should be okay in the years to come.

  22. Joe Espo

    The aggregate pension costs have gone up. The rate of increase has gone down. This is the same argument that’s used by democrats in Washington when they claim republicans are cutting the budget. Though the rate of increase has gone down, we’re still paying more out of our pockets.

  23. NavarroMelendezLove

    Editor’s note: This comment and two similar have been denied for content. Please keep comments on topic and not speculate on personal matters, no matter how lighthearted. Thank you.

  24. Oldtimer

    Joe Espo, also known under other names, is so impressed with his mastery of the language, he seldom bothers to check his facts, much like his cohort, McCarthy. There is a lot of history in at least one pension plan, when the City agreed, but failed, to match employee contributions of a good deal more than 5% for many years. The pensions were being paid, but there was no pension fund being built up. The big numbers in the last few years are the result of the city being required by law, I believe, to make up what they failed to pay for years. Self anointed party spokesmen make it sound like the unions are at fault and never mention the City’s failure to live up to contracts for many years. Very expensive actuaries calculated well invested pension funds, at the agreed rates of employer AND employee contribution, with predictable benefit costs, would accumulate a surplus a long time ago that would allow reducing contribution rates and/or raising benefits.

  25. anonymous

    I didn’t realize that Kimmel was the swing vote to hold the aquarium lease hostage. Too bad.

  26. dawn

    Let’s get back to the topic.
    since when is it the job of a city to tell a private organization how to spend their money.
    i would like to know what the cost to the aquarium are now.
    the contract with premiere and the cost of the meployees that had been hired and are being kept.

    the aquarium is being blackmailed into spending money they were hoping to save.
    no wonder i cannot afford to take my kids to the aquarium.

  27. Mike Mushak

    It appears many of the commenters on this post like Joe Espo are fully supportive of the $30 million taxpayer gift to the Aquarium through the bond debt forgiveness, just as I am. The Aquarium generates about $40 million a year in economic activity, so it is a good investment.
    That public gift however should have conditions attached to it including not firing long-term hard-working local workers on the bottom of the economic ladder to save a few bucks an hour, regardless of who actually signed their pay checks which is just splitting hairs and a deflection from the real issue at hand. This is an issue of compassion and loyalty as much as cost-saving, and I applaud the politicians who stepped up to support a fair and reasonable solution to save local jobs which supported families.
    There apparently are much larger structural issues with management that need solutions, that have led to other questionable staff decisions recently. Hopefully this fiasco will force a spotlight on fixing upper management policies at this public/private taxpayer-supported institution that led to this unnecessary showdown and other questionable decisions.

  28. the donut hole

    Good points Mike. Everyone is guaranteed a living and at above market pay as long as you vote a certain way. Next up, we can force taxpayers in Rowayton to buy memberships to the aquarium because that would only be fair. We also should increase the rates of memberships to ensure that we kill attendance as quickly as possible.

  29. anonymous

    @Mushak such compassion, do you hire union lawn mowers, union house cleaners, union plumbers, union handymen etc. for your home rather than shopping around for the best price? Regardless of value, are you sure to pay far above the going rate? One would certainly hope you are putting your money where your mouth is.

  30. spanner

    $40 million a year in economic activity,

    I’d like to see that broken down,most of the businessses have left there was no profit so that leaves who to make all of this money?Suppose loss of the Museum was a write off to the city,or was that not an economic drive for the city?

    Tickets fines parking and crime against those visiting is probably not added into the profit margin or is it?

    Mystic doesn’t run the same way could that Aquarium be used as a business model for Norwalk?

    Who just put the new roof on the Aquarium Norwalk or the Aquarium?

  31. “There apparently are much larger structural issues with management that need solutions, that have led to other questionable staff decisions recently. Hopefully this fiasco will force a spotlight on fixing upper management policies at this public/private taxpayer-supported institution that led to this unnecessary showdown and other questionable decisions.”
    I wonder why Mike isn’t as passionate at forcing the spotlight on fixing the upper management at NEON as he is with the aquarium? Where is his support for the workers there? Maybe because it is a democrat made mess?
    The aquarium was blackmailed into hiring back these workers and Rilling, DUFF and all the other liberal losers should be ASHAMED of themselves.

  32. Dawn

    Good Point. These same poeple have made no demands of NEON. but i want to know what was said to the Aquarium.

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