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Malloy's misstep

Published October 19. 2013 4:00AM

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should not be interjecting himself into a labor dispute between union workers and the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital administration. It his job to run the state, not tell L+M how to run its hospital.

On Thursday the governor's office went public with a letter Gov. Malloy sent to Bruce Cummings, the hospital's CEO. The letter reads as if written by the labor unions at the hospital, and demands "a response and explanation" for administration actions that trouble the governor. There is no hint of recognition by the governor of the challenges the hospital administration faces as both private insurers and the government Medicare and Medicaid programs tighten reimbursement payments and try to squeeze savings out of hospitals and other health service providers.

This is not to say the bargaining units are not raising legitimate concerns. Some services once provided at the hospital are now delivered by affiliates, but the union jobs did not move with them. The bargaining units also question why the hospital did not offer jobs at the affiliated operations to union workers who were cut in a recent round of layoffs. Organized laborers in cafeteria and environmental services jobs are justifiably raising questions about reports that L+M is exploring contracting out these services.

The point is that there are processes and protections in place to address these issues. The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing Monday on a union complaint that the hospital administration violated labor laws and the contract by moving jobs to affiliated offices. Negotiations are underway for a new contract.

We recognize Gov. Malloy is a loyal backer of organized labor. Its support will be critical to him in a likely re-election bid in 2014. His spokesman, Andrew Doba, notes the governor's mother was a nurse and the services demanded of health care workers are dear to him.

But he also claims to be a pro-business governor. It does not send a pro-business message that the Connecticut governor is not content with assuring that labor unions are fairly protected by law and regulation, but will personally intervene to put the power of his office behind one party - labor.

Mr. Cummings is particularly galled that the governor would challenge the hospital's labor policies after persuading the legislature to adopt a policy change effectively reducing by $18 million state revenues L+M had been counting on over the next two years. On that count, the CEO is shedding a few crocodile tears. L+M is fiscally solid. Substantial state and federal revenues continue to flow to the institution.

However, Mr. Cummings is on target when stating that "serious and complex issues are better discussed in a non-political manner than fed to the media at the behest of the unions."

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