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AFSCME Local 749 warns of “enemies” pushing for decertification vote

In a June 8 letter to their 1,500 members who work in Connecticut’s judicial system, AFSCME Local 749 President Ron Nelson warned of an effort to lure members away from AFSCME to a new union.

“It’s unfortunate that in the midst of this pandemic (and our work to protect your safety and your rights) we have learned about a letter of solicitation making false claims about AFSCME Local 749,” Nelson wrote in a June 8 letter. 

Nelson writes that an attorney named Eric Brown is soliciting members to join a new union and that he claims to be working with leaders of AFSCME 749.

“This is not true. Our Executive Board did not contact Mr. Brown, nor did we authorize him to send his solicitation,” Nelson wrote.

Eric Brown is a labor attorney who runs Nutmeg Independent Labor Unions representing 25 different unions across the state, including police officers, teachers and private sector unions.

The organization says member dues “go directly into your local union treasury,” rather than paying state and national affiliates, and it works only with lawyers to represent its members in grievances and contract negotiation. 

It also notes that unions are free to leave Nutmeg without “jumping through hoops or waiting years.”

Reached for comment Brown said he never sent a letter to AFSCME Local 749 members, but that he has been contacted by members interested in leaving the AFSCME local.

“Folks in Local 749 have been disappointed by their representation,” Brown said. “They reached out to me to see if I could do better and I think we can do better and it may lead to an election down the road.”

Attorney Brown would not reveal who from Local 749 he was working with. At least one member of Local 749’s executive board has resigned from her position on the board.

Decertification from AFSCME would require a vote by members, but the potential loss of a such a large bargaining unit would hit AFSCME Council 4 hard because part of members’ dues money goes to both Council 4 and the international affiliate. 

According to AFSCME Local 749’s constitution, bi-weekly dues are $18.45, amounting to $719,550 per year for roughly 1,500 members.

Local 749’s leadership was shaken up last year when former union president Charles Della Rocco was transferred to another bargaining unit after securing a full year of paid union leave in exchange for dropping grievances against the Connecticut Judicial Department.

Revelation of the deal between Local 749 and Judicial rubbed some members the wrong way. 

Emails forwarded to Yankee Institute show some members threatening to resign membership over Della Rocco’s deal, believing their grievances may have been sacrificed in exchange for his year of union leave time to campaign for re-election.

Della Rocco’s relationship with Council 4 was strained, as he sought to overturn the election of Jody Barr as executive director of Council 4 and tried to maintain his position on Local 749’s executive board even after being transferred to another bargaining unit.

Della Rocco remains listed as “president emeritus” at Local 749.

“AFSCME Local 749 fights hard for our membership,” Nelson wrote in his letter. “We are always focused on protecting your pay, pension and health care – things that are under constant attack from our enemies.” 

Independent unions are not affiliated with larger state and national unions generally avoid the political activism that has become the hallmark of traditional unions like AFSCME. 

So far this election years, AFSCME International has spent over $8 million on political candidates and PACs, according to Open Secrets.  

The largest recipient of AFSCME’s political spending so far this year is the For Our Future PAC, which was created by AFSCME and several other unions, including the United Auto Workers and American Federation of Teachers to promote progressive politicians.

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