Conn. healthcare workers strike for improved patient care

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The nurses and health professionals at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., are on strike after negotiations came to a halt on Nov. 26. Talks broke down when representatives from Lawrence & Memorial Corporation, which owns the hospital, refused to keep working toward a mutual resolution of issues impacting patient care sought by the unions representing approximately 800 of the hospital's employees. Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and healthcare technicians walked off the job at 6 a.m. on Nov. 27, kicking off the first strike at L&M in the hospital's 101-year history.

L&M strikers

"The corporation just doesn't get it," says Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician with 12 years of experience at L&M Hospital. "We have been committed to ensure community access to quality patient care, and their proposals came up far short of ensuring that," says Johnson, who is also the president of AFT Local 5051, which represents approximately 250 LPNs and technicians at the hospital.

"They have already said they plan to move infectious disease services, the diabetes center and occupational health services off-site next year alone. We could not agree to any proposal that put so much that the community relies on at risk," says Johnson, referring to the latest counter-proposal made by the hospital in negotiations on the issue of transferring health services off-site and away from the hospital setting. The proposal followed the rejection of a significant compromise offered by the unions, which asked for both sides to abide by the decision of an administrative law judge on the matter. A trial on a National Labor Relations Board complaint against the corporation is scheduled for Dec. 12, and the unions have proposed a moratorium on service transfers until the judge's ruling.

"The biggest issue has always been our patients' access to vital health services," says Lisa D'Abrosca, a registered nurse with 10 years of bedside care experience at L&M Hospital. "That is clearly not the priority of the corporation that runs our community hospital. We intend to make the public aware of their priorities as we reach out for the community's continued support. After all, we're fighting for them," says D'Abrosca, who is also the president of AFT Local 5049, the union representing approximately 540 RNs at the hospital.

In October, the unions at L&M launched a public awareness campaign called "I Am L+M" to unite the hospital's workers and the community they serve in holding L&M Corporation accountable for cuts to vital services. In addition to print ads and televised public service announcements, a petition and an interactive letter-writing tool are available at www.IAmLandM.org.

L&M strikers

"People who don't know our patients will be treating them in an urgent care situation," says Barbara Sadowski, a registered nurse with 26 years of service at L&M Hospital and a member of AFT Local 5149. "The patients we serve need us at their bedside, but we need to be sure they're not being shortchanged on the quality care they deserve going forward."

Sadowski's comments refer to concerns she and her colleagues identified as their number one priority in negotiations over successor agreements for their unions' contracts, which expired on Nov. 16. In two polls of the unions' combined membership, the impact of shifting health services away from the hospital's main campus was the issue identified as the most critical to address.

"Experience is key, and training matters when you're talking about patient health," says Mitchell Ross, a CAT scan technologist with eight years of experience at L&M Hospital and a member of AFT Local 5051. "We don't want to, but we're willing to strike for our community if that's what it takes to get L&M back on track."

Although there are three locals represented at the hospital, the healthcare workers who are part of AFT Local 5123 are not on strike. Its members, however, fully support the nurses and technicians who are on strike. Union leaders intend for the nurses, technicians and caregivers to return to work on Saturday despite threats by the corporation to lock out all employees.

To stand with the nurses and health professionals at L&M, sign this petition.

[AFT Connecticut press release, Adrienne Coles/photos by John Muldoon]