Hartford school employees win contract after working a year without one

After working for nearly a year without a contract, AFSCME Local 566 members ratified a new one in May with the Hartford Board of Education. 

Local 566 represents 240 Hartford schools support staff, including custodians, maintenance staff and cafeteria workers.

John Walton, AFSCME Local 566 president and custodian at Naylor CCSU Leadership Academy, said that the vote was unanimous among those who cast their ballot.

“All things relative to the ability to pay with the City of Hartford, we did well economically there,” Council 4 staff representative Anthony Bento said.

The old contract expired in July 2021, so employees were working under the terms of the old contract, which is allowed as a new contract is pending. During this time, the local added 15 new members during the course of the last contract.

Voting took place May 14 at Bellizzi Middle School. The Hartford BOE approved the contract at its May 17 meeting.

Contract gains

Walton said that significant gains in the contract include a general wage increase (GWI) and step increases.

During the first year of contract, there is a 3 percent GWI, which applies retroactively to the year the members worked without a contract, and step movement. As the members move up steps, they also receive pay increases by the step they moved up and the 3 percent GWI.

With this gain came a negotiated health insurance cost increase of only a 1 percent over four years.

“What normally happens is, you negotiate a wage increase, but then your insurance increases,” Walton said. “I think that was our big, big nugget into this whole thing.”

John Walton, then AFSCME Local 566 Vice President, speaks during a Hartford Board of Education meeting, Sept. 21, 2021. John Walton, then AFSCME Local 566 Vice President, speaks during a Hartford Board of Education meeting at Weaver High School, Sept. 21, 2021. Photo: Larry Dorman

The contract created a night leadsman position, a higher paying position for members who work in larger facilities. Other victories included improving job promoting and transfer policies, adding notification of new and vacant positions and definitive floating holiday scheduling.

No changes were made that affect employee pensions, which are provided through the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System (CMERS), a public pension plan administered  by the state.

Walton said that during the negotiation process, Bento’s work as the staff representative was “excellent.”

“He really highlighted the important aspects of what we fought for,” Walton added, “and he was very serious, and he did a wonderful job in helping us negotiate the contract that we have.”

AFSCME top official responds

Walton reached out to AFSCME President Lee Saunders in May after Walton was elected president of Local 566 to introduce himself and share videos of him speaking at two Hartford BOE meetings addressing working conditions and morale.

Saunders sent a congratulatory letter to Walton, commending him on his hard work to build Local 566 and establish a public presence at Board of Education meetings.

“Your dedication to the schools and the children you serve came through loud and clear,” Saunders said in the letter, dated May 24. “Thank you for using your union voice to speak up so powerfully for the tools, equipment and resources to do your job – especially during the pandemic.”