Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby is exiting that position after three years at the end of the month.
Gov. Ned Lamont plans to nominate Danté Bartolomeo, who currently serves as the agency’s deputy commissioner, as Westby’s successor.
Westby has served in the agency for more than five years, first as deputy commissioner and then as commissioner beginning in June 2018. Before joining state service, he was a consultant for SEIU, where he managed negotiations in Connecticut, Florida, and New Orleans. He has also served as vice president and a district leader for SEIU Local 32BJ, president of SEIU Local 531, and vice president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
Under his leadership, the agency expanded the apprenticeship program, strengthened working partnerships with Connecticut’s five Workforce Development Boards, and put resources and funding into employment and training programs to support the state’s workforce pipeline.
The DOL came under criticism in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic for being overwhelmed by the number of unemployment claims being filed. Due to outdated computer systems and a shortage of employees, the processing of many of those claims was delayed by weeks.
However, the department was able to implement computer improvements and bring on more workers in the midst of the crisis and brought the numbers back under control.
“I am incredibly appreciative to Commissioner Westby for his leadership, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic that sent a flood of nearly 600,000 residents to the Labor Department for assistance,” Lamont said.
“He led a team that got $8.5 billion in unemployment benefits disbursed across six programs – some of which were established only weeks prior,” he continued. “He has my utmost respect and I wish him the very best in his well-deserved retirement.”
“This past year has tested us immeasurably and Connecticut Department of Labor staff rose to each challenge – for that, they have my deepest respect and gratitude,” Westby remarked. “Deputy Commissioner Daryle Dudzinski, Danté, and the whole team rolled out program after program to serve our residents, worked through the problems caused by antiquated technology and few resources, and did whatever they had to do to get the job done and get benefits out to the residents who needed them.
“There is much more we have left to do,” he added, “and I have every confidence that the team will continue their extraordinary work under Danté’s leadership.”
Bartolomeo, who has served in her current position since January 2019, will begin serving as interim commissioner immediately upon Westby’s June 30 retirement. Her nomination will be forwarded to the General Assembly for its advice and consent.
Previously, she was elected to serve two terms as state senator for the 13th senatorial district of Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield, Middletown, and Rockfall, during which she was the co-chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee and co-chair of the Children’s Committee.
Prior to her tenure at the General Assembly, Bartolomeo was the deputy majority leader on the Meriden City Council, where she served for two terms and focused on education advocacy.
“It’s an honor to be nominated, and I thank Gov. Lamont for his trust and confidence,” she said. “Commissioner Westby leaves an amazing legacy – the Connecticut Department of Labor has received national recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor for our apprenticeship and workforce development programs. He’s been a committed and thoughtful leader and left big shoes for us to fill. We wish him the very best in his retirement.”
“Since day one she has been committed to the department’s mission and programs,” Lamont said of Bartolomeo. “I have no doubt that she can quickly transition into her new role as commissioner.”