Colin A. Young
New London — Talks between the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital administration and the union representing nearly 800 striking nurses and technicians resumed Friday evening, as day three of the first strike at a Connecticut hospital in at least 25 years wound down, union and hospital spokesmen said.
"As we have said in the past, we're ready to talk at any time and we hope that tonight's discussions will be productive," hospital spokesman Michael O'Farrell said in the afternoon.
"At today's patient care rally, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said, 'What ought to be happening now is talks.' We completely agree," said AFT Connecticut spokesman Matt O'Connor in an email. "So it's good news for the community that the federal mediator was able to bring the corporation's representatives back to the table to resume negotiations tonight at 8 p.m.
"We had been urging both sides to meet sooner than the Tuesday session agreed to on the first day of the strike," O'Connor said. "No doubt the movement on the part of the corporation came in response to the tremendous outpouring of support from the community and the pressure of state and local elected officials over the past several days. Our nurses and caregivers are hopeful that the corporation comes to tonight's session ready to reach a mutual resolution."
O'Connor said L+M made it a condition to limit Friday's session to the unions' negotiating committee members. He said they agreed for this one session, "in order to get talks underway again." He also noted that they intend to make future sessions open to the full membership.
Negotiation talks continued late into the night.
Earlier Friday, several hundred striking nurses and technicians and union supporters rallied outside the hospital on Montauk Avenue. The crowd of protesters outside L+M erupted in cheers at 4 p.m. with the arrival of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has expressed his support for the striking hospital employees. "As the son of a nurse, I'm supporting the nurses and others," Malloy said, while posing for photos with people carrying picket signs.
The governor said he was hopeful that negotiation talks Friday night would result in a settlement. "When negotiations broke off nine hours before deadline, I said that was a mistake. I called on both sides to get back to the table," he said.
"I believe the hospital is engaged in unfair labor practices. There are rules. You play within the rules. You live within the rules. That's what you're supposed to do," Malloy said. "On top of which … walking away from the bargaining table nine hours before the action is scheduled to take place was not the right thing to do. In fact, I think it really demonstrated to the greater New London community they are not serious about reaching a settlement."
The strike, the first in the hospital's 101-year history, began at 6 a.m. Wednesday after negotiations broke off Tuesday.
At the rally at noon, Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said, "Today may be Black Friday, but here in New London it's Labor Day."
"We made history this week," said Lisa D'Abrosca, president of the registered nurses union. "For the first time in a very, very long time we stood up and we empowered ourselves when we said to that corporation that runs that hospital, 'No, you are not going to continue to step all over us and our patients.'"
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national union that represents the L+M nurses and technicians, said the high turnout for the rally showed that a large portion of the community was behind the employees on strike.
"This is not a traditional economic strike. This is a strike caused by management of L+M because they don't want the nurses to follow patients to these new entities they are creating," Weingarten said. "Whether you're in health care or education, we are caring professionals. We have a sacrosanct responsibility to our patients, and this hospital should be supporting that, not trying to rip the nurses away from this community."
The union is seeking language in the contract that would require the hospital to offer nurses and technicians whose jobs are transferred out of the main hospital, to what L+M considers nonunion affiliates, an opportunity to continue to work in equivalent unionized jobs at the affiliates. They are concerned about the possible transfer of outpatient services at the diabetes clinic and infectious disease clinic, among others. An unfair labor practice charge about previous transfers is pending.
"We certainly respect their right to demonstrate. However, we don't respect their right to impede the access for patients and families, which happened today during the rally," O'Farrell, the hospital spokesman, said. "Multiple people today were impeded from getting in to visit their family members. There were people who had a very difficult time getting in because of the way they were behaving."
In an op-ed piece published in The Day Saturday, L+M President and CEO Bruce Cummings said the administration wished it could offer "the air-tight job security" the union has demanded. "Wouldn't everyone like absolute job security, especially in an industry that is experiencing the upheaval and uncertainty that health care is?" Cummings wrote.
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio told the crowd that L+M officials asked him months ago if they could rent Ocean Beach Park to use it for parking for replacement workers. "Well, they underestimated you, but they also underestimated New London, because New London is a union town and New London knows how to fight back, and I told them to take a hike," Finizio said to cheers from the crowd. "This fight isn't just your fight, this fight is New London's fight."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, New London City Council President Michael Passero and other state and local officials also attended Friday's rally.
About 150 to 250 replacement workers are staffing patient units, some of which have been consolidated. Two units were closed in advance of the strike, and elective surgeries scheduled through Friday were postponed. Most other areas of the hospital, including outpatient imaging and labs, remain open.
"As well as our qualified replacement workers are doing and as satisfied as the patients are with the care they are receiving, we want our own employees back on the job as soon as possible," Cummings wrote. "We have made numerous proposals to try to make that happen, not one of which has been presented to the union membership by their representatives."
The union plans to end the strike at 11 p.m. Saturday and escort workers back to their jobs. The hospital, however, said striking workers will be on "lockout" until a new contract is achieved, because the hospital administration believes on-again, off-again strikes would be too disruptive. The union considers the lockout illegal and is seeking a court injunction to stop it.
"They hold us very accountable for each and every thing that we do as nurses," said Stephanie Carnaroli, who has been a nurse at L+M for 23 years. "But I don't see the hospital management being held accountable for what they're doing."
Day staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.
Editor's note: Click here for an update on the issue.