The path to justice for Danbury Housing Authority Workers: Steve Curran’s Legacy

After a protracted fight over four years, Danbury Housing Authority workers (AFSCME Local 1303-402) have made progress in their fight for justice. With a labor board decision ordering negotiations to implement a proper salary schedule, Danbury Housing Authority workers finally have the opportunity to negotiate equal pay for equal work. Notably, this was the final case argued by Council 4 Service Representative Steve Curran, who passed away last year in the midst of labor board hearings for this case. Council 4 Staff Representative Attorney Gary Brochu was able to see the case through this year, completing Curran’s legacy at Council 4.

When Local 1303-402’s last five-year contract was signed in 2019, eight Case Coordinators in the bargaining unit had no salary schedule, resulting in lower pay for certain Housing Authority workers. Because of this, the parties had agreed to a clause in the contract to set up a joint committee to perform a salary study, with the requirement of immediately implementing a wage range for the Case Coordinators.

The study conducted by an outside consultant showed that Danbury Housing Authority Case Coordinators had the lowest wages of peer housing authorities. Management refused to honor the study’s conclusions, delayed negotiating wage ranges, and claimed that they had no duty to negotiate. Among other defenses, they claimed the study was incomplete, despite having already submitted an affidavit stating that the study was completed. Thus, Curran filed a demand for arbitration to attempt to force management to come to the table.

When management refused to arbitrate during the COVID pandemic, Curran filed a labor board complaint on the basis of management not negotiating in good faith and brought in Staff Representative Attorney Brochu onto the case. 

“Steve worked very hard for his locals. He sensed right off the bat that his members were being pushed around,” said Brochu. “It’s a local of only less than 30 employees, and management decided they could bully these workers.”

Labor board hearings took place over the course of 2022 as Council 4 staff and members persisted through management’s various bad faith tactics, including claiming that they had no obligation to negotiate, that the workers had no right to arbitration, and worst of all, levying personal attacks on Curran during the hearings – even after he passed away.

Taking up Curran’s mantle, Brochu pressed on through nine months of back and forth with management in seven labor board hearings, presenting over 70 exhibits of evidence, as well as filing a meticulously researched and written post-hearing brief. During this process, the Union also filed and successfully argued a grievance that resulted in compensation for workers’ attending the labor board hearings.

In August this year, the labor board rendered a near-unprecedented decision: not only was management found to be negotiating in bad faith, management was also found to have repudiated the contract. This charge is a significantly more severe than breaching the contract, and is reserved only for when a party is proven to have been unwilling to fulfill the contract at all. Finding management’s arguments to be wholly frivolous and implausible, the board ruled that the Housing Authority cease and desist from refusing to bargain in good faith with the Union in midterm negotiations for a wage range for Case Coordinators, and to compensate Council 4 for all attorney’s fees and costs for arguing this case. 

“This decision really shows how frivolous and baseless their arguments were,” said Brochu. “Steve would have been over the moon with this victory, and I am proud to have done his case justice,” he added. “This case is a reminder that it’s not enough to negotiate a contract – workers and their union must stand up to enforce it.”

Members agreed that this victory was a significant step on the path to improving their working conditions.

Local 1303-402 Danbury Housing Authority workers (L-R): Kathiria Alba, President; Smirna Sha, Alice Palanzo, Esther Reyes, Pia Cole, Maria DeSousa, Merari Matos.

Local 1303-402 Danbury Housing Authority workers (L-R): Kathiria Alba, President; Smirna Sha, Alice Palanzo, Esther Reyes, Pia Cole, Maria DeSousa, Merari Matos. Palanzo and Cole left the Housing Authority earlier this year.

“It was exciting when we found out that we won. We are paid less than other positions, despite doing more work. I just think we deserve a raise,” said Merari Matos, case coordinator and Local 1303-402 member. 

“It’s just not right,” added Maria Desousa, fellow case coordinator and Local 1303-402 member. “Who’s going to come work here at just $18.78 an hour, when temp agencies are out there paying $20 an hour?”

While this battle was won, the war is not over. Danbury Housing Authority case coordinators still need to actually negotiate the wage schedule, which has continued to be a challenge.

“As case coordinators, unlike most Section 8 workers, we take the file from A-Z – we do the orientations, liaise with counselors and landlords,” said Kathiria Alba, President of Local 1303-42 and case coordinator. “It’s been an uphill battle, and this fight has really worn down our morale. But once we found out that we won the labor board case, it was elating. We proved that we deserved to be acknowledged and that our labor has value.”

Local 1303-402 members will continue to work hard with Council 4 staff to see the labor board decision to fruition, and to make sure that the initial spirit of what Steve Curran set out to do is fully realized.