Former Union Head Picked to Run Connecticut’s Labor Board

Sharon Palmer has been selected as Connecticut’s new Labor Commissioner, the Hartford Courant reports. Palmer, who spent many years heading up the state’s largest teachers union, will be officially nominated to the post by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy this week.

In addition to her reputation as someone willing to work with others during her stint as the president of the Connecticut’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, she is also a well-regarded Democratic party operative and has worked with many leaders of the party apparatus in the state. Some see Palmer’s appointment as a gesture of peace from Malloy, who has been in conflict with the teachers’ union over his plans to reform teacher tenure and bring about other changes to the state’s school system over the previous year.

After the clash, some of the most controversial aspects of Malloy’s original bill were changed as a result of heavily negotiated compromises. Some aspects of the bill eventually became watered down to include pilot projects and studies - to the point that it passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives. The unanimous vote came after the teachers’ unions had dropped their strong opposition and after the education committee had offered a sharply different version of the bill. Longtime Capitol insiders know that anything that is highly controversial, such as abortion or gun control, never passes unanimously unless the bill is changed and watered down.

The new legislature created two pilot programs: one aimed at improving literacy among students in kindergarten through third grade, and the other to evaluate a new teacher assessment system which, it is planned, will be linked to tenure decisions as early as 2014.

Palmer’s nomination was initially leaked by sources close to the Governor’s office, but Malloy didn’t keep supporters waiting long as he confirmed his selection later the same day at a press conference. The audience cheered when Malloy took the podium, indicating their strong support for his pick.

Palmer’s appointment brought out a huge crowd at the state Capitol complex, including union activists and hard-core Democrats. The crowd included former state legislator Elizabeth Esty, state environmental commissioner Dan Esty, state tax commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan, social services commissioner Roderick Bremby, union activist Rick Melita, education commissioner Stefan Pryor, motor vehicles commissioner Melody Currey, former state Sen. Melodie Peters, Malloy adviser Roy Occhiogrosso, and AFL-CIO activist Lori Pelletier.

Palmer, who started her career as a junior high school teacher, said she was honored by the selection and didn’t think she’d ever be in a position to play such an integral role in Connecticut’s government. Last summer while Malloy was touring the state talking up his plans for education reform, she addressed a rally organized by the teachers union in opposition to his plans, calling herself a “coalition builder and a collaborator.”