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New London — Less than 48 hours before their contract expires, about 800 nurses and technicians at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital voted Thursday to authorize their union leadership to call a strike unless an agreement is reached.
Matt O'Connor, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said job security is a major area of disagreement in the contract negotiations. The two unions that represent registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and technicians are seeking contract language that would better protect their jobs if the L+M Corp., the hospital's parent company, seeks to outsource jobs to private companies. An unfair labor practice charge against L+M for transferring jobs to what it considered to be nonunionized affiliates is pending with the National Labor Relations Board.
"By voting to strike, we're standing up for our community and the quality care they deserve," said Lisa D'Abrosca, registered nurse and president of AFT Local 5049. "This is not a decision any of us take lightly. But we are deeply concerned that the community is losing the hospital it has counted on for over 100 years."
Hospital spokesman Mike O'Farrell said a strike would occur no sooner than 10 days after L+M is officially notified of the strike authorization vote.
"It's important to note that an authorization to strike doesn't necessarily mean a strike will happen," he said. He added that the union has authorized a strike in the past, but "in its 101-year history, there has never been a strike at L+M."
The contracts for the two unions expire Saturday morning. There will be additional negotiating sessions today, O'Farrell said.
"We hope there will be some sort of agreement," he said. The two parties could also agree to an extension to give more time to reach an agreement, delaying any further action toward a strike, he said.
"We continue to focus on negotiating a contract acceptable to both sides," O'Farrell said.
O'Connor said workers are also concerned about the possibility of more layoffs, adding to the job cuts the hospital has already made this year, and are seeking an agreement to minimize that possibility.
"Experience should mean something, especially when you're dealing with life and death issues," Stephanie Johnson, a sleep lab technician and president of AFT Local 5051, said. "It doesn't seem to mean much to the corporation that runs our community hospital. They have shown no willingness to stop replacing experienced caregivers and health professionals with less experienced replacement workers."
The union said it will run announcements on regional cable TV networks in the next two weeks raising its concerns about L+M. Informational picketing would take place outside the main hospital prior to any work stoppage, the union said.