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For the sake of the community both sides in the negotiations between the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital administration and the unions representing nurses and health technicians need to find their way to a compromise and a contract renewal.
On Thursday 800 nurses and technicians - represented by AFT Local 5049 and AFT Local 5051 - authorized their labor leaders to call a strike. Whether workers will strike is another matter, but by putting a strike in play, the unions are clearly trying to ratchet up the pressure on the administration to make a deal.
This follows preparation work by the hospital to find and coordinate replacement personnel in the event of a strike.
L+M is well respected in this community, a reputation earned through the quality of its leadership and the good work of its employees. The institution's image would suffer in the event of a first-ever work stoppage at the non-profit hospital. The existing contracts expired Saturday.
Negotiations are so difficult because of the pressures both parties confront.
Union members have seen recent layoffs. There are concerns about L+M moving services to facilities outside of the hospital, but without the union jobs following them. A complaint about the practice is pending with the National Labor Relations Board. There are also concerns that work now performed by hospital employees could be turned over to outside contractors.
Day Staff Writer Judy Benson reported Friday that union leaders are seeking some job security provisions in the new contract. But most any institution is reluctant to guarantee protection of jobs because the future is unpredictable. The rapid changes affecting hospital and health care make it particularly volatile.
Changes and reductions in Medicare reimbursements have resulted in significant revenue cuts for the hospital, as have changes in state Medicaid policy, which provides coverage for the low income. After a strong performance in 2012, the hospital has seen a $19.3 million in year-to-year loss in 2013, due largely to revenue reductions, said President and CEO Bruce Cummings.
This situation has happened before in the institution's 101-year history. In all past cases the unions and administration were able to agree on contracts without the ugliness of a work stoppage. However, the challenges blocking an agreement may be more difficult than ever before.
It is in the interest of both sides to address these challenges and reach a deal.