Stamford Housing Workers Speak Out
Housing authority criticized over layoff of 2 employees
By Elizabeth Kim, Stamford Advocate Staff Writer
STAMFORD -- As the city's housing authority, Charter Oak Communities, turns its focus toward providing mixed-income housing, a decision to lay off two longtime employees has come under fire from both the labor union and residents.
Up until several weeks ago, Herbie Lingard and Sandra Thompson worked in Charter Oak as work- order dispatchers, responsible for handling tenant complaints ranging from clogged toilets to vandalism.
In a letter dated Jan. 12, they were summarily informed their jobs had been eliminated. They said neither they nor the union knew about the decision beforehand.
Lingard was employed by the housing authority for 30 years, while Thompson worked her way through the ranks over 16 years.
"There should have been a process," Lingard said. "You don't treat people this way, not in this society."
Thompson, a single mother who lives in Stamford, said she cried when she heard the news, which arrived while she was on vacation.
"After 16 years, this is what you do?" she said. "You send me a letter when I'm on vacation?"
Both are fighting to win back their jobs, which they say provides an essential service to thousands of residents who have learned to count on them.
"We've grown to know the families," Lingard said.
Their union, Council 4 of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, has lodged a complaint against the state Labor Board for failing to bargain in good faith.
Larry Dorman, the union's public affairs coordinator, said Monday the dismissal of the two employees amounted to "an act of intimidation and coercion to weaken the union."
Lingard served as president of union's local bargaining unit for clerks at Charter Oak. With the existing contract set to expire in June, the union and Charter Oak are to start negotiations soon.
Vin Tufo, the executive director for Charter Oak, said an attempt had been made to have informal talks with the employees and the union last November but they had been unable to schedule a meeting.
"They did know this was coming," Tufo said.
In discussing the reason for the job cuts, he said a survey by the housing authority indicated the number of work orders "decreased significantly" as a result of newer buildings.
On average, he said, each dispatcher received 10 phone calls a day.
Lingard and Thompson's responsibilities have since been shifted to property managers, which are also union positions. "This is consistent with private real estate management," he said.
Including the cost of benefits, he said the elimination of the two positions would result in a savings of about $150,000.
Lingard and Thompson disputed Charter Oak's statistics about their workload, saying that they each handled 20 to 30 phone calls a day in addition to in-person complaints.
Thompson said there were more than 500 work-order requests during some months,.
The issue has drawn protests from many residents, who stood up at a meeting last week of the housing authority's commission and read letters and pleaded with Charter Oak officials to reconsider their decision.
Bernest McLeod, president of the Fairfield Court tenant association, expressed anger at the manner in which Lingard and Thompson were dismissed.
"What about people?" he said. "You're not working on a conveyer line. These are people you have used for 30 years, 15 years. And you send them a letter?"
His words appeared to strike a chord with those in the crowd, many of whom murmured and nodded in agreement.
As Thompson listened from the back row, tears ran down her face.
McLeod singled her out at one point, telling Charter Oak officials she had a teenage son to support.
Though initially embarrassed at having her personal life exposed, she said she appreciated his point.
"We have families just like they do," she said.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-964-2265.
Herb Lingard, foreground, and Sandra Thompson of AFSCME Local 1303-260. Photo courtesy of Stamford Advocate