Mystic Seaport employees say no to union

Mystic — An attempt to unionize workers at Mystic Seaport failed Friday by a vote of 145-90.

The union, calling itself Mystic Seaport United, immediately said it would file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a new election.

"We believe Mystic Seaport management created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation," said Eric Bailey, spokesperson for the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO that sought to unionize about 250 Seaport workers. "Once the NLRB has had an opportunity to investigate these new charges of misconduct, we are confident a new election will be scheduled."

The union earlier had filed complaints about unfair labor practices at the Seaport — including charges that managers had been placed in break rooms to keep workers from discussing the union cause — but the NLRB dismissed the claim.

Dan McFadden, spokesman for the Seaport, said he believes the union effort failed once employees became aware that it wasn't in their best interest.

"We are very happy this is a decisive result and we had a high turnout," McFadden said. "We're looking forward to putting this behind us."

If the results stand, he added, another vote to form a union would have to wait for at least a year. The union would have covered most full- and part-time Seaport employees, McFadden said, basically leaving out only managers, actors and security guards.

McFadden said the root cause of the union effort was a breakdown in communication between managers and employees. He vowed that the Seaport, one of the state's leading tourist attractions and a nationally recognized maritime museum, would learn from its mistakes and take a more active role in including employees in decisions.

"I feel good, but it's been a long struggle," said Dana Green, an events manager who helped lead workers opposing the union.

"Everybody is very passionate about this place," added Sharon Brouillard, another events manager who opposed the union. "It was a very emotional process."

The press was barred from the Munson Room in the G.W. Blunt White building on the Seaport campus, where the union vote was held, but workers described reaction to the results as muted.

"It was dead quiet," Brouillard said. "Not a cheer, no clapping."

"It was very respectful on both sides," added Kim Thompson, from the Seaport's collection research department.

McFadden said he believes the union would have been costly and could have reduced the Seaport's flexibility in moving employees around to different departments.

Disappointed union supporters, who didn't want to be quoted by name, said the election wasn't fair because of management interference. Workers said they were seeking a more powerful voice in decision-making and improved service for visitors.

Union organizers, who had only about six weeks between filing a union petition and holding a vote, previously complained about layoffs and benefit cuts as well as intermittent and small raises, mounting insurance premiums and a six-week closure over the winter that left many out of work.

Seaport CEO and President Steve White earlier this year was asked to recognize the union voluntarily, but he declined.

White, in a statement released Friday, said rejection of a union means managers and employees can work together directly on any issues that remain between the two sides.

"This has been a very divisive process for the entire staff and the next step is to immediately begin the healing process," White said.

l.howard@theday.com

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