A second probate court employee in the last three months has filed a complaint against the state Probate Court, claiming she was fired for her attempts at unionizing.
Jaime Shaw, a lead union organizer who testified earlier this year before the Labor and Public Employees Committee on the right to organize, filed the complaint with the state Board of Labor Relations on June 4.
Her complaint states that her employer knew that she was a “vocal and instrumental supporter of her and her fellow employees’ drive to organize.”
“After a pending legislative bill failed that would have given the employees that right, Jaime Shaw was terminated …,” the complaint says.
This latest complaint comes on the heels of the case of Kristen Rich, who had testified back in February before a legislative committee in favor of a bill that would allow the state’s probate court workers to unionize. Rich, who was a Stamford Probate Court clerk at the time, said she was unhappy about pay and worried about job security. Rich was then fired in early April.
The labor board and Rich reached a settlement May 21. Part of the settlement was that the parties agree not to speak publicly about the agreement.
At the time, the Connecticut Council 4 of the AFSCME AFL-CIO was supporting Rich’s efforts to launch a union and then to obtain unemployment benefits.
Larry Dorman, public affairs director for the Connecticut Council 4 of the AFSCME AFL-CIO, said that the union looks forward to a hearing before the labor board on Shaw’s case. “We think that Jaime was singled out for exercising her right to speak at the legislature and being an advocate for her co-workers,” Dorman said.
George Kelly Jr., the attorney for the state Probate Court administrator, said they are fully prepared to present to the Labor Board the reasons why Shaw’s firing was justified.
“Her termination was in no way related to her views about collective bargaining,” said Kelly, of the Hartford firm of Siegel, O’Connor, O’Donnell & Beck.
“In the prior case in Stamford, we presented facts to the Labor Board showing that the judge had acted properly, that the termination was based solely on the employee’s actions in the workplace, and was not related in any way to her position on collective bargaining,” Kelly said. “The case was settled amicably before the Board had the opportunity to make any findings. The judges in these two situations were acting in response to particular circumstances that arose in their courts. Each acted appropriately, independently and solely in the best interests of the courts over which they preside.”
When Shaw spoke to the legislative committee on Feb. 18, she said she and her co-workers deserve the right to organize. “As the statues stand written on this date, my fellow Probate Court Employees and I have no voice within the Probate Court Administration,” Shaw said. “I had to accept two years of wage freezes like all other state employees, without being afforded their job security for the next few years. I am required to choose a state of Connecticut medical insurance plan while being forced to pay a significantly higher premium for my dependents’ coverage than state employees.”
Shaw told the committee she felt she did not have a “real voice,” and that she did not have the right to bargain for a better way of life, as her counterparts in the state do. “It is for these reasons that I deserve the right to organize,” Shaw said.
When Rich testified, she spoke about how she and other probate court employees were concerned about the lack of raises. “In seven years at probate, my salary went up by a mere $1,000,” she said. “And then the threat of a union was heard by the Probate [Court] administration. In response, a [cost-of-living adjustment] was implemented, which gave me a gain of a few hundred dollars annually, which amounts to a few nickels per hours worked. In addition to that, everyone was given a merit raise. The merit raise is so small for me that I believe it would be less insulting if I wasn’t given a raise at all.”
The two-year campaign to organize probate court workers is part of a larger effort. He said many agricultural workers and charter school employees are also barred from organizing in Connecticut. The state’s labor statute needs to be changed before any of them can unionize. The bill Rich testified in favor of wasn’t passed this session. It is expected to be introduced again next year.