NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling said Sunday he would be meeting with Maritime Aquarium officials and Common Council leaders Tuesday to see what, if anything, could be done for the 11 workers displaced when the Aquarium brought its maintenance work in-house.
More than 70 people took part in a Saturday demonstration organized by 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to call attention to the plight of the 11 workers who had been cleaning the aquarium before being laid off in December.
Aquarium spokesman Dave Sigworth said the group’s efforts were misplaced.
“The aquarium did not lay off any workers in question, but did not renew a contract with a cleaning company as part of austerity measures to control our operating costs and avoid a deficit,” he said in a press release.
The workers were employes of Premiere Maintenance Inc. That company held the maintenance contract for 18 years, a press release from 32BJ said. “(The aquarium) replaced the cleaners with mostly part-time workers making poverty wages and no health care insurance, paid sick days or any other benefits,” the press release said.
Norwalk Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A) and former councilman Warren Pena spoke at the rally. Both have questioned why the Aquarium did not hire the workers back after ending its contract with the cleaning company.
Premier Maintenance owner Michael Diamond said Monday that his company had not prevented the workers from making their own deals with the Aquarium. He did not say if they had been offered jobs on other cleaning crews run by Premier. The company employees both union and non-union workers, he said. Contracts for buildings of more than 100,000 square feet are filled by union workers.
State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) was at the protest Saturday.
“We’ve been working now for many months to try to bring the aquarium and 32BJ together to come together with an agreement,” he said. “We haven’t got there yet. We are going to continue to fight each and every day to try to get that together so we have the justice for janitors so we don’t have a race to the bottom, we don’t have $8 an hour with no health benefits.”
Rilling, who was not at the demonstration, said Saturday the goal for Norwalk officials today is to “find out exactly what the details are and what we can do to resolve this problem. We want to sit down and see if we can’t come up with some solution,” he said.