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Mayor's Union Support Will Hurt Entire Region

May 1, 2006

As mayor of one of the cities in the Hartford region, I have to take issue with Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's collaboration with the union Unite Here! They are trying to unionize the roughly 140 full- and part-time workers at the Connecticut Convention Center, as well as the 220 people working at the adjacent Marriott Hotel.

As part of this effort, the union organizers have threatened to organize a boycott of the convention center. They staged a rally, supported by Mayor Perez, in front of the convention center and they've called many of its clients and encouraged them not to use the facility.

I believe the union's actions will harm our entire region and our state. In New Britain, we're experiencing the beginning of a renaissance and I see the positive impact it's having on our neighboring communities. That's why I'm concerned about anything that may disrupt Hartford's rebirth and its benefit to the state.

The convention center is the centerpiece of a roughly $1 billion state-funded revitalization effort going on in our state capital. Private investors have contributed roughly another $1 billion. Hartford and the state of Connecticut are being recognized nationally for this effort and for its successes. We are finally moving in the right direction, so this is the worst possible time to succumb to special interests when we should be working toward our collective success.

A few things the public should know. Unite Here! is mounting a national campaign to increase its market share and the dues it collects in cities where the hospitality industry in thriving. So, ironically, we can be proud as a state that we've attracted the union's attention. But make no mistake, this is not a local union issue. This is part of a national campaign.

Secondly, even if the workers at the convention center choose to unionize - they have not decided to do so up to this point - there is no indication that they would choose this union.

Mayor Perez, who clearly relishes exploiting his newly found mayoral powers, is perhaps taking his pro-union stance too far. First he helped Unite Here! unionize the Hilton in downtown Hartford. Then he created and got passed an ordinance specifically allowing union organizers to recruit Wal-Mart workers on the store's private property.

Now Perez and his friends have set their sights on the convention center.

Hartford has a high tax rate and part of the reason is that state and federally owned properties, educational institutions and many new development projects are not generating direct tax revenue for the city. But given the chance, they will have economic benefits in the form of jobs, more people coming to the city to spend money, more middle-class homeownership and, as a result, less crime.

In New Britain, we have generated over $20 million in private investment during the past 18 months, a remarkable feat given our city's tax rate. We are moving in the right direction and our residents and our neighboring communities are benefiting from our successes.

Efforts like Unite Here! can only serve to scare private investors from making commitments in Connecticut's cities. New hotel, restaurant and medical jobs continue to be the areas of growth we are seeing across the state.

The decision to unionize should not be mandated by politicians - it should be made by the employees themselves without the interference of the Democratic Party.

Connecticut is a very small state, the third-smallest in the country. Just as the successes of the casinos benefit us all, the same is true for the convention center and all the economic development efforts in Hartford.

We all stand to benefit if Hartford can once again become a vital urban center. And the mayor, of all people, should know that. Mayor Perez should be ashamed of his actions - discouraging business in his own community.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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