The nurses’ fight isn’t over

December 19, 2013

Nate Moore reports on a fight to save union jobs at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital.

SOME 800 nurses and technicians at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., will return to work December 19, after the hospital locked them out nearly three weeks before. But they are returning without a contract.

On November 27, members of American Federations of Teachers (AFT) Locals 5049 and 5051 were forced to strike after hospital administrators refused to guarantee that union jobs wouldn't be eliminated at the hospital through the transfer of jobs to outpatient facilities. For some time, the hospital has been expanding services to outpatient facilities that are non-union.

While the hospital has assured that no transfers of "acute" (i.e. surgical and emergency) services will occur, they are pushing to keep non-acute "service" jobs in the bargaining unit flexible for transfer to other sites.

Why? In their "last, best and final offer " communicated on December 3 to the union, the hospital cites "changes occurring in heath care markets nationwide" that threaten more jobs in the future if the hospital doesn't act. In reality, however, is that the Lawrence and Memorial Hospital is a non-profit facility that is making plenty of money to pad administrative salaries.

Nurses picket outside Lawrence and Memorial Hospital
Nurses picket outside Lawrence and Memorial Hospital

The hospital appeared indifferent to the strike, and management was ready to replace workers with scab labor days before negotiations ended on November 27. The hospital is paying scabs around $100 per hour, not including hotel accommodations and transportation, to and from the hospital.

Furthermore, the hospital knew that workers were vulnerable because they didn't have a strike fund. Adding to the hardships faced by striking nurses, they lost their health care coverage on December 1. The New London Day reported that in one case a locked-out worker would have to pay up to $1,400 per month to keep their coverage going.

The administration "last, best, and final offer" published in the New London Day on December 4 ignores nurses' demand to protect union jobs. Instead, hospital management is trying to tempt union members with a deal that would allow transferred workers to be placed in non-union positions and offers them bumping rights, job training for openings, priority placement (if "qualified"), or a six-month severance if the laid-off worker does not wish to pursue employment at Lawrence and Memorial.

Hospital management is also offering signing bonuses--$1,000 for full-time workers $500 for part-time workers. To receive these bonuses, union members would have had to agree to the hospital's latest offer by 11:59 p.m. on December 16.

Nurses did not concede. The hospital understands how much job security means to their bottom line, and for this reason they are determined to eliminate it.

Striking nurses and technicians also understand the value of job security. That's why they have stood firm and aren't allowing the hospital to dictate their conditions of work by eroding their union. They will need to keep the pressure on management if they are to hold out on that demand.

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