Health care unions help stop flu spread

The Day Editorial Board got it wrong Dec. 11 - "Flu shots a no brainer" - when it chastised the unionized workforce at both Windham and Natchaug Hospitals regarding the union's position and cooperation concerning the mandatory flu prevention program at the facilities. The unions, working with management at both these facilities, recently completed bargaining for fair and balanced terms for each hospital's mandatory flu prevention programs. AFT Connecticut is the bargaining representative of the vast majority of unionized employees at both hospitals.

Unions get it

As one of the negotiators who assisted both unions in those negotiations, as well as provided assistance in similar negotiations at two other AFT Connecticut unions - William W. Backus Hospital and Lawrence & Memorial Hospital - I can assure the public all of the health care workers working at all four of the aforementioned facilities understand the importance of providing safe and infectious free environments.

What The Day failed to seek out was the union's objective in all of these negotiations. Had The Day inquired, it would have discovered that the union's goal was to strike a balance between rights of employees and its obligation to provide the public with a safe and infectious free environment. The unions achieved this by agreeing to both hospitals' mandatory flu-vaccination programs. The unions were able to successfully bargain additional employee protections that provided, under certain medical and religious situations, the mandatory requirement of wearing surgical masks as an alternative option to getting the flu vaccination.

The unions sought and obtained rights to challenge decisions made by the hospitals' established and controlled medical and religious boards if the unions felt any denials were without merit. Similar rights were bargained at Backus and L&M Hospitals. L&M's standard varied by allowing a personal reason exception for declining a flu vaccination, but as pointed out in the editorial article, the exception would still require the wearing of a surgical mask. This exception is important because it respects the personal choice of an individual abstaining from having to get a flu vaccination, while still complying with the flu-prevention program. This has obviously been a successful approach as L&M flu compliance was cited in the editorial article as being over 90 percent.

One thing right

The Day did get one thing right by stating the unions were the "champions of causes such as job safety, equal pay and paid sick leave." A great example of this would be the recent successful passage of the union supported statewide Nosocomial Infectious Disclosure Law. AFT Connecticut and its local unions achieved this by working with employers when possible or fighting for the rights of workers when necessary.

Had The Day contacted the leadership of any of the respective AFT local unions before formulating its editorial opinion, it may have avoided the unnecessary dissemination of false information.

Greg Kotecki lives in Ledyard and works for AFT Connecticut. He represents employees at Lawrence & Memorial, William W. Backus, and Windham Memorial Hospitals. AFT Connecticut is the largest representative of acute care hospital workers in Connecticut.

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