Connecticut nurses ready to strike

November 10, 2009

NEW LONDON, Conn.--Nurses and technicians at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital voted overwhelmingly on November 4 to authorize a strike beginning November 16 if an agreement hasn't been reached.

The 700 workers are members of the registered nurses union, American Federation of Teachers Local 5049, and the licensed practical nurses/technicians union, AFT Local 5051.

The main issue is sick time. The hospital administration claims that cutting employees' annual sick days from 12 to five is necessary for cutting hospital costs. The proposal includes the stipulation that sick time cannot be carried over to the following year.

The hospital administration is pointing to the short-term disability program to make up for the cuts in sick days. However, this compensation program is wholly inadequate, since it covers only 60 percent of pay and starts seven days after the employee becomes sick.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic, and the hospital wants to cut our sick benefits?" asked Local 5051 Treasurer Cathy Vanverdeghem. Nurses are treating a number of swine flu patients at the hospital, and there has already been one confirmed death. The proposal would force nurses to come to work ill, exposing their patients to illness and facilitating the spread of the flu.

"We did not get a strike authorization, we got a strike demand," Local 5051 President Katherine Martin told the New London Day, referring to the "supermajority" vote obtained among the membership to authorize the strike. "It is imperative that we do what they say."

There are three scheduled negotiating sessions between union representatives and hospital management before November 16. Hospital spokesperson Kelly Anthony told the New London Day that the hospital is prepared to hire replacement nurses in case of a strike. There's no doubt that the union locals should prepare members to mobilize for a strike if the administration is unwilling to back down.

For more information on how you can show your support, visit the AFT Web site.

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