Nurses, technicians ratify contract with L+M

New London — Unionized nurses and technicians at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital voted Monday to ratify a new labor agreement with the hospital, ending a bruising, monthslong process that featured a four-day strike and management’s imposition of a lockout.

At a press conference, officials for both sides said they had agreed not to disclose details of the pact, which expires June 30, 2016.

Bruce Cummings, L+M’s president and chief executive officer, and Greg Kotecki, field representative for AFT Connecticut, the two unions’ parent organization, said the agreement resolves all outstanding issues between the sides, including those that were being heard by the National Labor Relations Board.

All matters before the NLRB have been withdrawn, the sides said.

Chiefly at issue was the union’s contention that the hospital violated labor law when it eliminated union jobs in the process of moving hospital-based outpatient services to affiliated nonunion physician practices in the community. Seven union workers lost their jobs last year when the hospital’s OB/GYN and outpatient mental health clinics were relocated.

Asked if the new labor agreement addressed the seven workers’ situation, Kotecki reiterated that the ratification vote was evidence that the union’s concerns had been met.

He said a “majority” of the unions’ nearly 800 members cast paper ballots in Monday’s voting and that fewer than 20 voted against the tentative agreement. A majority of each of the unions — AFT Local 5049, which represents about 540 registered nurses, and AFT Local 5051, which represents some 250 licensed practical nurses and technicians — had to endorse the contract to achieve ratification.

Cummings said the new agreement “brings an end to one of the most challenging times” in L+M’s 101-year history.

“Our focus today — as it should be — is a renewed effort to look forward, not back,” he said. “That’s perhaps the most important aspect of today’s announcement — that the unions have expressed a commitment to the success of the L+M health care system. Going forward, we have both agreed — and pledged — to work better together on behalf of patients.

“We’ve said it before. The health care landscape is changing rapidly. … In order to succeed, L+M has to remain nimble, agile and efficient. That is much easier to do with the support of our union colleagues.”

Without providing specifics, Cummings said the agreement has four key elements, the first being the resolution of all matters before the NLRB. Second, he said, the parties have reached agreement on issues related to the previous transfer of work from the hospital’s former OB/GYN clinic and outpatient psychiatric care to physician offices in the community.

Third, the parties have agreed on the specifics of any additional transfers that may occur during the duration of the new contract. And fourth, the agreement embraces a mutually agreed-upon set of core principles regarding the potential for future union organizing by employees of L+M Healthcare operating entities — L+M Hospital, The Westerly Hospital, L+M Medical Group and the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut.

At the press conference, Lisa D’Abrosca, president of the RNs’ union, and Stephanie Johnson, president of the union representing LPNs and technicians, also spoke in support of the agreement and, as Johnson put it, “a renewed commitment by labor and management to the hospital’s mission, which is to improve the health of this region.”

In a statement Monday night, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, “I have always profoundly respected workers’ rights to collectively bargain and organize. By all accounts, this agreement sets a new path of common (principles) that will improve the relationship between labor and management and chart a new path for the future.”

In an interview earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the agreement, which he assumed would be ratified, marked a turning point in L+M’s labor-management relations.

“We’re ready to turn the page, to move this great institution forward,” he said. “I give both (sides) a great deal of credit for working this out.”

The union had launched a four-day strike on Nov. 27, after which hospital management imposed a lockout that lasted until Dec. 18. At that time, nurses and technicians returned to work under the terms of the previous union contract, which had expired Nov. 16.

The new contract is effective retroactively to Nov. 16, Kotecki, the union field representative, said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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