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Does Lawrence + Memorial = Union v. Management?

Union members face off with L+M hospital administration over potential strike.

AFT announces its I Am L+M campaign.
AFT announces its I Am L+M campaign.
Lawrence & Memorial Hospital and its employees are gearing up for a union battle that could be bloody. 

On Monday, L&M Hospital nurses, caregivers and healthcare workers reacted to news that the hospital seemed to have initiated hiring procedures for temporary replacements in the event of a strike at their facility. 

"An online advertisement follows a pattern suggesting that Lawrence and Memorial Corporation (LMC) management has no interest in mutual agreement on contracts that expire next month for 800 of its employees," the AFT Connecticut Union noted in a press release yesterday.  

"Why does the corporation running our community hospital seem more interested in strike preparations than mutual negotiations?" said L&M Hospital Registered Nurse (RN) Lisa D'Abrosca. "We've been urging management to make the time to sit down at the table with us. Instead, they're making arrangements for a strike even though our contracts don't expire for nearly four weeks." 

D'Abrosca, who is president of AFT Local 5049 and represents the hospital's approximately 540 RNs, was referring to hospital management participating in only two negotiating sessions on successor agreements for both the hospital's RN and its licensed practical nurse (LPNs) and technician bargaining units. 

The Union says that, two weeks ago, its leaders offered five additional dates for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing on a complaint against LMC after learning that Monday's hearing would be postponed. According to the union, hospital management agreed to just one additional session, despite the possibility that the board could reschedule the trial to take place just days before the expiration of both unions' current agreements. 

Governor Malloy also raised the issue of appearing to prioritize strike preparations over mutual negotiations in his October 17 letter to Chief Executive Officer Bruce D. Cummings. The governor strongly urged LMC to take "every possible step toward securing a labor agreement before" existing contracts are set to lapse on November 16 for the two bargaining units.  

"I'm thankful that the governor was willing to listen to us," said Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician at L&M Hospital and president of AFT Local 5051, which represents approximately 250 LPNs and technicians at the New London hospital. "It's too bad the CEO has not been willing to listen to us himself. In fact, he has refused our offers to meet. That just makes the corporation's actions since this past summer look even more reckless."  

According to the union, in July, hospital officials asked New London city officials to grant expedited permission to use public property as staging for temporary replacement workers. Negotiations with management for the RNs and LPN/tech units' contracts had not yet begun at that time and the mayor rejected LMC's request as premature. 

From the perspective of Harry Rodriguez, a health unit coordinator at L&M Hospital and president of AFT Local 5123, "This is another example of outsourcing patient care dollars. Instead of negotiating in good faith, now the corporation is recruiting 'scabs' who work for profit alone and will follow the money when they're done. That's not what the community we serve deserves," said Rodriguez, whose union represents more than 800 of the hospital's healthcare workers under a collective bargaining agreement reached with LMC last year that expires in May of 2015. 

Florida-based recruiting firm U.S. Allied, whose self-described mission is to "provide staffing solutions during labor disputes," is now advertising for short-term tech-related positions at the hospital. The company specializes in placing "scabs," the term for temporary employees that displace workers on strike, and claims to be the "nation's leading resource" for employers in healthcare industry labor disputes. 

"Exposing tactics like this and educating the community is what 'I Am L+M' is all about," said Melodie Peters, an LPN who worked at L&M Hospital and is president of AFT Connecticut. "We're reaching out to patients, their families, elected officials—everyone in the greater New London area—to encourage they add their voice to reclaiming our community hospital."  

“These so called ‘tactics’ we have engaged in are, in fact, requirements from the Department of Health," said L+M spokesman Michael O'Farrell. "We hope for nothing more than successful negotiations and a timely resolution. However, the state dictates that we have a full and thorough plan in place in the unfortunate event that the union issues a strike notice. While we hope to never face that situation, we are required to have a plan in place.”

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