MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) _ Labor leaders from throughout Connecticut on Wednesday called longtime state AFL-CIO President John Olsen a true fighter who has been the face of working families during his 25-year tenure as head of the state’s largest labor organization.
One after another, union leaders representing workers ranging from pipefitters to nurses stepped up to a microphone during the biennial Connecticut AFL-CIO convention and thanked Olsen for his commitment to the cause.
While they have not always agreed, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy credited Olsen with helping him win the 2010 election, saying, “I wouldn’t be here but for your hard work.” Malloy called Olsen, a former state Democratic Party chairman and a Democratic National Committee member, “a lion on behalf of organized labor” and “a labor leader beyond compare.”
Olsen gave his final address as president before the state convention. It was held at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino, the tribal-owned casino where four groups of workers have been organized, totaling about 3,000 people. Those workers were honored on Wednesday.
A plumber by trade, the 63-year-old credited his career as a union leader to two delegates at a 1974 convention who encouraged him as a young plumber apprentice to fight on behalf of others. He urged union leaders to “build a farm team” and keep an eye out for other young delegates “who may be rough around the edges” like himself, and encourage them to get involved in the labor movement.
If the union doesn’t change, he warned, “we will die.”
An election is scheduled for Thursday to choose a successor for the state federation, which represents about 180,000 to 190,000 union members in Connecticut. Under a restructured constitution, the delegates will choose a full-time executive secretary treasurer to oversee the day-to-day operations and an unpaid, part-time president. Lori Pelletier, currently the AFL-CIO’s secretary treasurer, is expected to take over the new executive secretary treasurer position, although other nominations will be accepted from the floor.
AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Salvatore Luciano is expected to be elected president. Other nominations will also be accepted for that position.
Pelletier credited Olsen with what’s expected to be a smooth transition. During his tenure, Olsen had one major challenge in 1991 and was not supported by the machinists union. After winning the presidency, he made a point to reach out to those workers, said Pelletier, who is a machinist by trade.
“This orderly succession is a tribute to … John’s leadership and his ability to be peacemaker,” she said. “I think it really is a tribute.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)