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New London union continues fight over laid off former employee

New London — Buoyed by a recent state labor board decision in its favor, the city’s Public Works union plans a continued fight with the city over the layoff of a former employee.

At the center of the controversy is Cynthia Olivero, a longtime employee at the police department who had switched her job to the senior center in 2017 but was laid off in 2019.

Olivero, who had worked for the city since 2008, initially argued the city had not afforded her the right to bump another employee with less seniority, as was her right. Her position at the senior center had been eliminated and the city contended there were no other positions for which she was qualified.

Olivero, who had at the time pending complaints against the city with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, eventually agreed to settle with the city for $50,000. As part of her settlement signed in August 2020, she agreed to drop her CHRO claims, not to file a civil lawsuit and not return to employment with the city.

The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations earlier this month issued a decision in the union’s favor that the city violated the Municipal Employee Relations Act by negotiating the settlement with Olivero without participation of the union.

The decision ordered the city to “cease and desist” in direct dealing with union members and to post the decision for 60 days. The decision was not related to her employment with the city.

The union, meanwhile, still has a pending grievance and an arbitration meeting scheduled for next month focused on Olivero’s bumping rights. David Kotecki, president of Local 1378, said in his view the recent decision has implications for the pending grievance.

“I think this adds to our case,” Kotecki said. “If the union wins this one, the city could be ordered to bring Olivero back or pay her back wages, pension premiums, health insurance.”

He said his main concern is protecting union bumping rights and argues the city “went rogue” when it failed to involve the union in negotiations.

Olivero was not immediately available to comment for this report.

Olivero, as part of her settlement, withdraw her bumping rights and to back pay “or any other relief."

“I understand that if the union does not withdraw my grievances and prevails, I will not be entitled to reinstatement, back pay or any other relief or remedies,” the settlement states.

Attorney Brian Estep, who represents the city, said the city is reviewing the recent decision and its options. He declined to discuss specifics of the union’s latest grievance.

“The city will continue to defend the outstanding grievance and any other claims made by the union,” he said.

Olivero’s settlement with the city in 2020 was not her first. In 2016, the city agreed to pay her $54,000 to settle a complaint in which she argued the city had maliciously failed to accommodate her multiple sclerosis when her desk at the police department was moved to the second floor as part of a reorganization. The city, as part of the settlement, denied her claim.

Other complaints against the city have included allegations the city released embarrassing medical information about her and that police department supervisors made disparaging and false statement about her.

She also has been the subject of a police internal investigation. One investigation was related to the leak to the media of a video depicting an officer striking a handcuffed prisoner. Another investigation found she had failed to follow proper procedure after files were found in her desk at the police department.

In 2015 she was injured when she fell down a dilapidated staircase outside the police department and was out for a time on worker’s compensation. The city, in 2017, said the cost to the city was more than $200,000.

g.smith@theday.com

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