NEW LONDON, Conn. - The courageous nurses and tech workers at L & M Hospital who put their livelihoods on the line and walked off the job in November to stop outsourcing and protect patient care, won a new union contract last week.
Following their job action, the hospital had locked out the workers for 18 days, bringing in a small number of replacements. The 800 workers stood strong and with a broad array of public support forced the administration of the community hospital to end the lockout. The workers returned to the job without a contract while negotiations continued.
"Our patients, their families, and our community are the winners here," said Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician and president of AFT Local 5051. "Our agreement is a renewed commitment by labor and management to the hospital's mission, which is to improve the 'health of this region.'" The local's 250 members work as Licensed Practical Nurses and technicians, including mammography, CAT Scan, and nuclear medicine technologists.
"Our efforts produced more than just new contracts," said Lisa D'Abrosca, registered nurse and president of AFT Local 5049 which represents 540 RN's. "They are also blueprints for our caregivers and hospital administration to change our relationship for the better."
The settlement has four key elements.
First, all hearings before the NLRB and any other actions related to the labor dispute have now been withdrawn with the ratification vote by the unions' combined membership.
Secondly, the parties have reached agreement on any issues related to the previous transfer of work from the Hospital's former OB Clinic and outpatient psychiatric care to physician offices within the community.
Third, the parties have also come to agreement on the specifics of any additional transfers that may occur during the duration of the new contract, which expires June 30, 2016.
The fourth element focused on a set of mutually agreed upon core principles regarding the potential future organizing by employees of L+M Healthcare operating entities (L+M Hospital, Westerly Hospital, L+M Medical Group and the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut) to form a union within AFT Connecticut or any of its affiliates.
"Our agreement assures that caregivers' voices will be heard and their concerns will be addressed going forward," said Johnson.
Bruce D. Cummings, president and CEO of the hospital, indicated that reaching an agreement with the workers was critical to operations when he said, "The healthcare landscape is changing almost daily. We are focused on continuing to build the strength of the L+M system, and our employees are essential to that process."
The issues at L & M were viewed as key to the future of all healthcare workers in Connecticut, as many communities battle attempts to privatize and to bring for-profit hospitals into the state.
From the beginning, large numbers of supporters came to the picket line from the surrounding community and a wide array of unions.
The slogan "We are all L & M" resonated through the state. AFT president Randi Weingarten brought national attention to the strike when she came to address a special picket line rally telling the workers they were not alone. Governor Danell Malloy, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney all visited the picket line.
After 18 days, the hospital administration agreed to end the lockout while contract negotiations continued. Among those at the early morning rally to celebrate their return to work were members of Local 34 Unite Here clerical and technical workers at Yale who traveled to the rally from New Haven. In 1984, Local 34's "Home for the Holidays" strategy of returning to work while still negotiating, led to a landmark first contract settlement.
Local 34 is currently fighting the layoffs of 11 members at the Yale Sleep Center, to maintain quality patient care and for job security at satellite clinics. This is the same issue that L & M nurses and techs confronted, with the demand that any transfers to satellite facilities should be done by the same workers with their union representation intact.
Photo: Locked Out L&M Hospital workers. L&M Workers United