Lockout at L+M ends, nurses and techs return to work

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Nurses and technicians who were illegally locked out of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., nearly three weeks ago returned to work on Dec. 19, temporarily halting a standoff over the future of health service delivery for the region. Earlier this week, Lawrence + Memorial Corp. representatives unilaterally ordered an end to the unlawful activity, after talks with the unions representing the hospital's caregivers failed to produce a mutual agreement.

Before and during the illegal lockout, L+M's nurses and techs found encouragement and solidarity among the community, from patients and their families to civic leaders. More than $65,000 in donations have been made to a "hardship fund" that AFT Connecticut and the national AFT set up to provide relief for the caregivers. In addition, nearly 1,000 gifts were donated for a holiday gift delivery coordinated by the federation and the United Labor Agency for the employees' children. Today, a new ad in the "I Am L+M" public awareness effort ran in The Day, a local newspaper, thanking the community for its ongoing support throughout this crisis.

"Hospital leadership has shown that they were actually listening to the community," said Melodie Peters, an LPN who worked at L+M Hospital for 15 years. Peters now serves as president of AFT Connecticut. "Pulling the plug on an illegal lockout demonstrates that the message the people of this region were delivering was received, loud and clear," said Peters, who is also a former state senator from the region.

"No one can dispute that ending this illegal lockout is a win for our community," said Lisa D'Abrosca, a nurse at the hospital. "We're back to the bedside, caring for our patients, and that was always our No. 1 priority. And we've moved the administration to protect vital health services for now. But we're still committed to resolving our community's long-term crisis of care," said D'Abrosca, who also serves as president of AFT Local 5049, which represents the hospital's approximately 540 registered nurses.

D'Abrosca's comments refer to the corporation's obligation to suspend the shift of patient care services away from the community hospital while the matter remains a subject of collective bargaining negotiations. Union leaders and L+M Corp. representatives exchanged numerous proposals to address the issue during efforts that began in September to reach successor agreements for contracts that expired Nov. 16. The National Labor Relations Board has also taken up the dispute, and sworn testimony is scheduled to be heard next month in an ongoing trial over the matter.

"We've never given up on preserving access to quality patient care," said Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician at the hospital. "We always said that coming together with management—especially when we're talking about our patients—was possible and preferable. Now that we're back to work, we hope the administration gets back on track and is willing to work with us," said Johnson, president of AFT Local 5051, which represent 250 licensed practical nurses, healthcare technicians and technologists at the hospital.

The unions expect that L+M Corp. will agree to continue talks aimed at a settlement of the dispute over transferring health services away from the hospital's main campus. Efforts to resolve the matter in contract negotiations last month stalled and led to a vote by the members of both unions authorizing a strike to protest the unfair practice. The nurses and techs remain committed to ensuring community access to high-quality care that is provided by skilled professionals. [AFT Connecticut press release]

December 19, 2013