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‘The fight is not over’: Service plaza workers celebrate victory

Four McDonald’s service plaza workers who were laid off during the pandemic celebrated their recent victory in a labor dispute outside Darien’s I-95 rest stop on Thursday morning.

Mario Franco, who worked at the Darien service plaza for over 20 years, was one of them.

“We lost our jobs but because of that, we continued the fight from the outside and supported our fellow workers, and today we have won raises, demands, and we are celebrating our victory and we can go back to work," said Franco.

He and co-workers Rosa Franco, Pilar Mestanza and Milagros Vasquez filed a complaint in June 2020 with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Michell Enterprises deliberately fired them over their efforts to organize their workplace. In the ruling last month, Michell Enterprises was ordered to rehire the employees with back pay, interest and compensation for any expenses related to new job searches.

“We are here to show how this fight is a part of a larger effort to protect workers across Connecticut,” said Rochelle Palache, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, the union that supported the employees in their case.

Right to recall

The rally also addressed Senate bill No. 658, which was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in July 2021 and mandates that employers recall service-sector workers laid off during the pandemic according to seniority before hiring new employees. That measure, which was introduced by state Rep. Robyn Porter and state Sen. Julie Kushner, expires in May.

Speaking at the rally, Kushner said it was a rally by Franco and his co-workers that marked the beginning of the legislation for recall rights for workers who were laid off during the pandemic because of COVID.

“That bill was so critical to saying to the world and to our state, ‘You cannot mistreat workers when they have risked their lives,’” said Kushner.

The law, however, is in effect only until May, and workers and 32BJ SEIU leaders are calling for its expansion in the upcoming legislative session. Connecticut is among the handful of states that have enacted similar laws.

An additional lawsuit is pending against Michell Enterprises for violation of the state right to recall law, according to a 32BJ SEIU spokesman.

Hopeful to return to work after two years of being laid off, Franco is nervous, but he says the fight is not over. “I’m going back to work and I’m happy, and I [feel] strong because the boss and the supervisors now know that the law is the law,” said Franco.