Marek Morawski of Local 1174 Embodies Our 'Never Quit' Attitude

The immigrant’s journey is rarely easy but often inspiring. Marek Morawski's path from classically trained musician in Warsaw, Poland to public works union leader in East Hartford, Connecticut is no exception.

“In the United States,” Morawski  said, “if you work hard, you can achieve what you want.”

Morawski , who emigrated to Connecticut in 1984, is no stranger to hard work. He is a Maintainer for the Town of East Hartford and President of AFSCME Local 1174. The 58-person bargaining unit includes Parks, Public Works, Sanitation and Mechanics.

In Poland, Morawski  earned a music degree and played the bassoon professionally in symphonies. Like many workers, he felt shackled by the oppressive Communist regime in power. Food and gasoline were rationed. Purchasing power was limited. Travel opportunities were practically non-existent. Unions were under government control.

“You were scared to say anything [about the government] to anybody,” Morawski  reflected. “You might be arrested.”

Seeking greater freedom and opportunity, Morawski decided to visit his sister in New Britain, where she had settled after leaving Poland in 1979. He never returned.

Morawski came to Connecticut with little but the proverbial shirt on his back. His artistic and professional credentials did not translate to America. Without complaint or regret, he started a new career as a Laborer for the Town of East Hartford, digging ditches, hauling garbage cans, hand-shoveling town properties and the like.

(He also met and married his wife Deirdre. Their son Brendan is sound engineer who won a Grammy Award for his work on Taylor Swift’s acclaimed album 1989, which she released in 2014.)

Morawski moved up the ranks in job classifications while demonstrating himself to be a natural leader on the shop floor as a union steward and officer. Inspired in his own life by the rise of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, which ultimately helped to topple the Communist regime, he instinctively understood that independent unions fought for the rights and freedoms of working people. 

“The union provides stability for the workforce and secures our rights and benefits. Everything we have is due to the union,” he said. “The employer is never going to provide good benefits or opportunities for advancement or protect the quality of our work without a strong union.”

Under Morawski’s leadership (he is serving his fourth term as President), Local 1174 has negotiated the strongest contracts in town, securing higher than average wage increase while holding the line of health insurance premium cost sharing. Local 1174 has also maintained retiree health benefits and, during the most recent negotiations, upgraded ten positions.

Council 4 Staff Representative J.Wells, who serves as the Local’s spokesman in negotiations, pointed out that during Morawski’s tenure, every grievance filed by the union has received a favorable award or settlement. The Local 1174 leadership team has also proven masterful at addressing and correcting issues before they become major incidents or formal grievances/labor charges need to be filed. 

This progress has not come without personal sacrifice and abuse. After becoming President, Morawski lost his regular overtime opportunities without explanation. Supervisors told Polish jokes in front of him and the membership. He faced retaliation and discipline from management over his union activity, a situation ultimately rectified through the labor relations process.

 Through it all, Morawski has never given in or given up on his members. Too often, he pointed out, “workers are pushed around. That’s not right. We are equals, no worse, no better. It bothers me when people with power try to take advantage.” 

L-R: Local 1174 leadership team of Al Cameron, Jason Fox, Bradley Fox and Marek Morawski.

That he counts his co-workers as friends is no surprise to anyone who has watched Morawski in action. “Marek takes young members under his wing and mentors them. That’s how he is. Just a class act,” said Local 1174 Treasurer Jason Fox.

In recognition of his unswerving commitment to his union, Council 4 selected Morawski and nine other members to receive our union’s Biennial Member Recognition Award. They were honored at the Council 4 Convention in Groton last month.

“Marek thinks of the membership first and always,” said Local 1174 Vice President Al Cameron. “He is everything that a union leader should be, and deserves the recognition he is getting from Council 4.”