Conn. nurses and techs end strike; face lock out by hospital

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Nurses and technicians at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., came prepared to return to work on Nov. 30, as their four-day strike came to an end. However, they were met with locked doors and threats of arrest if found on hospital property.

Representatives of Lawrence + Memorial Corporation, which owns the hospital, refused to allow the caregivers to complete an unconditional return to their patients, which the union offered before they began the strike on Nov. 27.

"We want a resolution, not a lockout," says Lisa D'Abrosca, a registered nurse and president of AFT Local 5049, which represents registered nurses at the hospital. "The corporation is reacting in a reckless and irresponsible way to our lawful efforts to hold them accountable. Even our state's political leaders urged them not to lock us out from treating our patients."

There has been an outpouring of support for the caregivers over the past week, including rallies that generated huge crowds in front of the hospital. The striking workers also have the support of lawmakers, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Rep. Joe Courtney. All of them joined AFT President Randi Weingarten at a rally for workers at the hospital on Nov. 29.

The members of Congress released a statement on the dispute condemning the lockout, saying "imposing a lockout carries grave risk, escalating the impasse instead of resolving it." The lawmakers called on both sides to come "to the negotiating table and find a way to first return the union to their jobs, and then to resolve the underlying dispute so that L+M can continue to serve the southeastern Connecticut community."

When the strike began, the hospital brought in temporary replacement workers to provide care. They have continued working at the hospital during the lockout.

"We want to return to work to take care of our patients and to provide the quality care they deserve," says Christina Chapman, a registered nurse in the acute rehabilitation unit who has worked at L+M for 28 years. "The corporation would rather be understaffed with less competent 'scabs' who don't know our patients, our hospital or our community," says Chapman, a member of Local 5049.

"The people of this community deserve the truth from the hospital's administration," says Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician and president of AFT Local 5051, which represents the hospital's licensed practical nurses and technicians. "Instead, the corporation is trying to fool our community into thinking they locked us out over wages and benefits," she says, referring to a misleading full-page ad the corporation placed today in the local newspaper that creates the false impression that the caregivers took the unprecedented action of striking over economic issues rather than unfair labor practices and their impact on patient care.

The key contract issue is the need for L+M nurses and techs to follow their patients as the hospital's corporate management shifts vital healthcare services out of the community hospital to satellite clinics, where experienced healthcare workers would be replaced by nonunion outsiders.

"The folks running this hospital need to respect, not ignore, community concerns and patient needs," says Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut. Peters, who has worked at L+M, is a licensed practical nurse and a former state senator from the region. "It's time for the corporation's board of directors to respond to the people and the elected and community leaders of this region who are saying, 'We are L+M.' They need to hold the hospital's administration accountable."

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[Adrienne Coles/AFT Connecticut press release]

Dec. 2, 2013