L+M offers nurses, techs bonuses in exchange for deal

New London — Full-time nurses and technicians at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital would each receive $1,000 bonuses and their part-time counterparts $500 each if they ratify the hospital’s latest contract proposal by 11:59 p.m. Monday.

The bonus offer was sent electronically Wednesday to Greg Kotecki, lead negotiator for the union that represents the 800 nurses and technicians, and to John Carpino, federal mediator in the ongoing labor dispute, L+M spokesman Mike O’Farrell said. If what the hospital terms its “last, best and final offer,” presented last week, is ratified Monday, it will end the lockout that began Nov. 30, the hospital said in a news release. The new offer provides a third tier of bonuses to nurses and technicians who work four to 19 hours per week — $250 each.

Paying the bonuses would cost the hospital about $500,000. There are 267 full-time nurses and technicians, 469 part-timers and 16 “supplemental” staff who work four to 19 hours per week, O’Farrell said.

“We want our employees back where they belong — caring for our patients and our community,” Bruce Cummings, L+M president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the union will give careful consideration to this new proposal and allow our employees to vote. We believe our employees should have a chance to be heard. More importantly, it’s a chance for them to get back to work.”

Nurses and technicians went on strike Nov. 27, intending to return four days later. The hospital, staffed by replacement workers since the strike, said the regular workers could not return until a new contract is signed. It said the lockout was necessary because of a union threat of intermittent strikes. The union denies making that threat.

Under the proposal the hospital wants union members to vote on, nurses and technicians in non-acute-care departments would be eligible for retraining, bumping rights, severance pay and other benefits if they were laid off due to transfers of those departments to L+M affiliates outside the main hospital. No acute care departments would be transferred, the proposal states.

Cummings said the offer “protects a clear majority of our employees. It’s important to know that the now-expired contract contained no job security provisions at all — none.”

Matt O’Connor, spokesman for the union that represents nurses and technicians, said the negotiating team “would look at it (the proposal) carefully.” He added, however, that it is “highly inappropriate” to make contract offers by email. He also noted that the proposal L+M wants nurses and technicians to vote on has already been rejected by the union’s negotiating team. The union is pushing for the new contract to include language to protect nurses and technicians’ jobs if their departments are moved out of the main hospital, so that they would be able to “follow the work” to the new location and would remain part of the union.

“It sure sounds like an attempt to bribe the nurses and technicians with a recycled, already rejected proposal,” he said. “But we’ll look at it. Maybe this is an opening to come to some sort of common ground and get back to talks.”

In a statement released later in the evening Wednesday, O’Connor wrote that the union would “not be responding to this ‘offer’ by email or in the press. We are ready to discuss it with the corporation’s representatives when they agree to resume talks to end their lockout and reach a mutual agreement on patient care delivery. Further, this proposal did not come from the corporation’s chief spokesperson who would be the only authorized person empowered to present proposals in negotiations. If the corporation has changed their chief spokesperson they need to inform us immediately.”

The two sides have not been at the bargaining table since Dec. 3, and no new sessions were scheduled as of late afternoon Wednesday. A session scheduled for Tuesday was canceled after the parties could not agree on whether it would be open to nurses and technicians.

O’Farrell said that if the contract is ratified Monday, hospital management and union leaders would have to decide on the logistics of ending the lockout, so there is a smooth transition from the replacement workers to the regular staff.

j.benson@theday.com

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