Informational picket staged outside L+M Hospital

Union nurses and their supporters march in an informational picket outside L+M Hospital in New London Monday, November 25, 2013. The nurses, who have been working without a contract since Saturday are scheduled to strike on Wednesday if a deal cannot be reached.
Union nurses and their supporters march in an informational picket outside L+M Hospital in New London Monday, November 25, 2013. The nurses, who have been working without a contract since Saturday are scheduled to strike on Wednesday if a deal cannot be reached. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

New London — Bundled for hours of marching, chanting and huddling in temperatures hovering around freezing, about 50 nurses and technicians sought to call attention to their contract dispute with Lawrence + Memorial Hospital on Monday with a daylong informational picket.

"We're fighting for good patient care," said Lisa D'Abrosca, president of the AFT Connecticut union local that represents registered nurses, as picketers holding signs with messages like, "Job Security" and "Care for those that care for you," filed past. "It's not about wages. It's about L+M shifting workers to nonunion shell corporations."

Negotiations between the hospital and representatives of about 800 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and technicians are scheduled for another round of contract talks at 11 a.m. today. A federal mediator will participate in the session, hospital spokesman Mike O'Farrell said.

If no agreement is reached, the workers could go on strike on Wednesday. The hospital said it brought in replacement nurses and technicians for orientation over the weekend and that striking workers would be on "lock out" until a new contract is achieved. There has never been a strike in L+M's 101-year history, and there has not been a strike at any Connecticut hospital in 33 years.

O'Farrell said the union is asking for assurances that no employer can give.

"We don't dispute the union's right to hold an informational picket, particularly as they try to explain to the public how they are seeking 100 percent job security, something that's virtually non-existent in this economy," he said.

D'Abrosca said the union is trying to prevent the hospital from transferring union jobs at the hospital to what it considers nonunion affiliates. Wages and benefits for positions at the affiliates are substantially less than equivalent unionized jobs, she said.

Picketers kept the scene on Montauk Avenue lively, chanting, "It's cold, it's rough, we're union, we're tough," and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, union busting has got to go," to the beat of a makeshift drum made from an empty water cooler jug. Passing cars and trucks honked periodically in support.

Among the marchers were Jane McNeace and Suzy Kasabuski, who held flags with the United Nurses & Allied Professionals logo, the union that represents nurses at The Westerly Hospital. L+M acquired Westerly Hospital in August.

"We came to show our support," said McNeace, who was laid off from her nursing job when the obstetrics department at Westerly Hospital closed last spring.

Kasabuski said she works as a dialysis nurse at Westerly Hospital. Members of her union sent a letter to L+M President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cummings saying that while they are pleased thus far with L+M's leadership of their workplace, they are fully supportive of their union colleagues at L+M, according to AFT Connecticut spokesman Matt O'Connor.

j.benson@theday.com

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