Federal judge to hear labor complaint against L+M Medical Group

New London - The National Labor Relations Board has set a March 10 hearing before an administrative law judge in Hartford after determining that there is substance to a union complaint alleging unfair labor practices by Lawrence + Memorial Medical Group supervisors.

The issue is in connection with a vote to organize nurses, medical assistants and other health care workers at the Howard Street medical building last year.

The hearing at the Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building follows an NLRB investigation into an Oct. 17 complaint filed by the AFT Connecticut, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

The complaint was made prior to a vote conducted on Nov. 5 for medical building employees to decide whether to unionize. The vote failed 41-18.

The union never disputed the result of the vote but complained that supervisors at L+MMG interfered with due process in violation of the National Labor Relations Act prior to the balloting.

After receiving and investigating the complaint, the NLRB concluded that there is merit to the claims that supervisors prohibited employees from distributing union literature during non-work time in non-work areas and from talking to co-workers about the union during work hours, including in non-work areas. The announcement was issued Dec. 23.

The two supervisors named in the complaint are Dr. Christopher Lehrach, president and chief transformation officer, and Lynette Whittle, practice manager.

Michael C. Cass, the NLRB officer in charge of the Hartford region, said Tuesday that, rather than going to trial, the L+MMG could post for 60 days a public notice of employees' rights under the National Labor Relations Act, but to date has opted not to.

"We are disappointed that the NLRB and the AFT union have decided to proceed forward with this matter," said Michael O'Farrell, a spokesman for the L+MMG.

O'Farrell, noting that the union never challenged the vote results, said, "Given this, we had hoped AFT would respect the very strong vote of the staff to reject union representation and put this behind for everyone - particularly for our patients."

The union sees it differently.

"This should be a wake-up call for the leadership of our community's health network," said L+M registered nurse and AFT Local 5049 President Lisa D'Abrosca in a prepared statement.

"We warned the board last fall that administration was again wasting patient care dollars," said L+M sleep lab technician Stephanie Johnson, president of AFT Local 5051, representing the hospital's approximately 250 licensed practical nurses, health care technicians and technologists. "Now they know that managers' tactics against the caregivers at L+MMG weren't just costly, they were illegal."

O'Farrell, also in a written statement, said "L+MMG is confident that all of its actions have been lawful."

Cass, with the NLRB, said at the trial starting March 10 both sides will present their cases and the administrative law judge will make a decision that either side can appeal to the NLRB in Washington.

a.baldelli@theday.com

Twitter: @annbaldelli

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