Phone strategy is latest tactic in negotiations between Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, union

New London - The union representing nurses and technicians in a labor dispute at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital has been sending out postcards encouraging people to call the hospital's chief executive officer at home, office or on his cellphone and tell him the hospital's actions are wrong.

"I am concerned that L&M Corporation is not standing up for our community or quality health care," the mailer begins. "Instead of focusing on quality patient care, L&M is pulling experienced nurses and other health care professionals out of our community and harming the medical services that our community has relied upon for over 100 years."

The postcard provides contact information, including the home and cellphone numbers of L+M Healthcare Corp. President and CEO Bruce Cummings. It urges people to attend a rally and picket line at noon on Friday.

The mailing coincides with escalating tensions between the union and hospital leaders, who said they plan to train replacement nurses and technicians this weekend in case of a future strike. At a news conference on Friday, the hospital said that if a strike occurs, there would be a "lockout" starting Dec. 1 to prevent approximately 800 unionized nurses and technicians from going back to work until there is a new contract.

More talks are scheduled for Tuesday.

AFT Connecticut spokesman Matt O'Connor said Saturday the postcard was not a reaction to anything that occurred this week but rather, was part of a larger community engagement effort organized early last month.

O'Connor said several thousand postcards have been mailed since the union launched a website to give people information about company decisions affecting the hospital and patient care.

He said if people received a postcard, they were signed up through the website, or a friend signed them up.

"It really was just simply to enable the residents of the greater New London region a means of communicating with the top administrator of the corporation that runs the hospital and have a dialogue," O'Connor said.

Hospital spokesman Michael O'Farrell said Saturday the hospital was aware of the mailer.

"Bruce is well aware of the issues and the importance of the situation," O'Farrell said. "We wish the union was as focused on the issues as they are on continuing this campaign, that focuses more on drama than the real issues, which we stand ready to deal with on Tuesday."

Negotiations failed to reach an agreement Thursday, five days after the current contract expired. AFT Connecticut, which represents the nurses and technicians, told the hospital it could call for a strike Wednesday.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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