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AFT Connecticut, which represents nurses, technologists and maintenance and health care workers at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, announced Monday that it is beginning an organizing campaign for the approximately 90 medical and clerical staff of Lawrence + Memorial Physician Associates, a hospital affiliate.
Eric Bailey, spokesman for the union, said AFT contends in an unfair labor practice charge pending with the National Labor Relations Board that workers recently moved from the hospital to positions in LMPA should not have become ineligible for union membership. As nonunion members, those workers are not guaranteed the same benefits and wages as those covered by the L+M union contract, he said.
The NLRB is expected to rule on the charge in about four weeks, Bailey said. In the meantime, the union has begun organizing in case the decision is not in its favor and a formal vote of the LMPA workers to join the union would be required.
"These folks didn't want to wait," Bailey said.
Pamela Kane, vice president of physician practice management at L+M and executive director of LMPA, said the hospital is confident that LMPA employees will remain focused on providing the best care to patients.
"We recognize the rights of our employees to decide if representation is right for them," she said in an email message. "We also believe that as they gather and understand all the facts, they will determine that remaining nonunion is the best choice for them and their families."
In a statement released by AFT, the LMPA workers backing the union said they have been "kept out of the hospital's unions despite providing the same excellent care" as hospital workers.
"Management at L+M has used its alter ego, LMPA, as a loophole around their contractual obligations," the statement said. "Their unfair actions have prevented us from providing the level of care our patients deserve. We are joining together for equality, justice and respect."
Kate Kenyon, a certified medical assistant who works in LMPA's Old Lyme office, said in the statement that she believes LMPA employees "deserve the same rights" as the health care professionals who work at the hospital.
Erin Yuhas, a nurse in the Niantic office, said in the statement that LMPA workers want to have more of a say in their workplaces.
"We have a great team in our office but as the hospital keeps adding more and more work we just can't serve our patients the way we want to," she said.