It was a crowning achievement for Lori Pelletier as she stood before the AFL-CIO state delegates, about to be elected to head the state’s largest labor federation without an opponent after 14 years in the no. 2 spot.
“I’m honored and humbled and it really is the best job I’ve ever had,” Pelletier declared, at the MGM Grand/Foxwoods conference center.
It may be her best job ever but it isn’t her highest paying. Pelletier, 50, won a huge promotion by acclaim and on Friday, became executive secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
And she was rewarded with a pay cut of $37,000 — from $177,00 to $140,000.
How can that be? It doesn’t seem fair, especially since Pelletier, a woman, succeeds a male president, John W. Olsen, whose salary was $186,000. Would this have happened if it were the other way around?
No one can say, but like many other organizations, AFL-CIO is not as financially strong as it would like to be. The number of dues-paying members is shrank in the last fiscal year, but only slowly, by about 2,000 people to 135,000. And persistent unemployment has cut back on the amounts they pay.
The pay cut was part of a planned restructuring of the AFL-CIO state office in Rocky Hill, which is small — just five people full-time. Pelletier is the top official at AFL-CIO and will coordinate statewide operations. But she does not take the title of president. That position goes to Sal Luciano as an unpaid stint. He keeps his day job as executive director of AFSCME Council 4.
If you think the old salaries were too high, consider that Olsen and Pelletier had to pay all mileage and car costs themselves, among other expenses, and Pelletier still will. And believe me, both of these labor leaders crisscross the state; Olsen was almost as ubiquitous as Sen. Richard Blumenthal was when he was attorney general.
People who know Pelletier will tell you she won’t put in fewer hours, she’ll put in more, and you won’t hear her complain about the pay cut — especially since the staff is in a pay freeze.
“I’ve been at far too many rallies where our people were getting laid off and we see CEOs making huge money,” Pelletier said Friday. We were not going to do that at AFL-CIO.
So AFL-CIO saves a cool $223,000, which will restore some of its dwindling cash-on-hand. But the idea is to spend some of that money on more organizers, the foot soldiers needed to bring more Connecticut workers into collective bargaining.
It makes sense logically but it doesn’t seem right. On Friday, the plaudits for Pelletier — from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, among others — included a statement from the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women.
“As the first openly gay woman to lead a state labor federation, Lori provides a new, refreshing face to Connecticut’s public policy leadership and the labor movement,” Jacqueline Kozin, Co-President of CT-NOW, said in a written release. “Connecticut women have another strong voice advocating for their needs and rights.”
Forget the woman and gay stuff, reaching the pinnacle of a state labor federation is a huge personal achievement for anyone of any gender or sexual orientation. Women have a strong voice advocating for them and so do men, in Pelletier, who rose through the ranks at the Machinists at Pratt & Whitney in the ’90s.
It’s just too bad at a time when AFL-CIO itself is working toward better pay for women, that economic reality had to get in the way.