The union representing security officers of the Orange Board of Education is claiming the employer violated municipal labor law by laying off employees and refusing to bargain in good faith. Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) recently filed a municipal prohibited practice (MPP) complaint against the Board of Education on behalf of AFSCME Local 1303-486. (Link to the complaint can be found on the second page of this release).
In the complaint, which Council 4 filed with the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations in Wethersfield, the union alleged that the Orange Board of Education acted illegally by eliminating bargaining unit jobs and failed to bargain with the union. In the layoff notice, Orange Board of Education claims revenue to pay the security guards salaries has declined due to a drop in afterschool enrollment this year.
“I was shocked to get my pink slip,” said John Winchell, a security officer who started out volunteering at his daughter’s school before becoming a full-time security officer in 2018. “I know these kids, it’s like an extended family. The parents know I have a vested interest. I’ve never done this for the money, it was always about my love of being there and around the kids.”
The complaint filed by Council 4 also alleges employees were discharged because they signed a union petition. On January 28, 2021, the bargaining unit won its union election and was certified by the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations. Previously, they were the only Board of Education employees to not have union representation. Part of their motivation to organize stemmed from demands to perform other work outside of their duties as security officers, such as custodial duties.
“We wouldn’t mind helping out and keeping our environment clean,” explained Winchell, “but it was taking us away from our desks and monitors where we’re keeping an eye on things and doing what we we’re supposed to. It just seems that we organize a union and suddenly we’re let go. They didn’t even wait until we could sit down at the table and work out a contract.”
“It feels like retaliation and retribution,” said AFSCME Field Representative, Alex Guzman, who assisted the member organizing campaign. “These workers want fair treatment, respect, and dignity. The actions of the Orange Board of Education are shameful, especially in a global pandemic, and proves why they need a contract.”
Despite the assertion that Orange Board of Education lost funding due to a decline in afterschool enrollment, those enrollment figures have not yet been shared with the Board. “If they had the money from September until now, but the only thing that has changed is that we are union, then it boggles my mind how they can justify doing this,” said Winchell.
The AFSCME bargaining unit maintains that laying off dedicated public servants in the middle of a global pandemic, in addition to being illegal, is a demonstration of bad faith by the Orange Board of Education. In its February 9th budget meeting, a Board of Education member discussed hiring retired police officers to replace currently employed security monitors.
“How can they lay us off with the possibility of replacing us with others?” asked Winchell. “Where’s that money coming from if they can’t afford to pay us?”