Westerly Hospital unions approve contracts with L&M

Westerly - The two unions representing about 400 employees at The Westerly Hospital approved new contracts with Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, the second significant step this week toward L&M's acquisition of the smaller, financially troubled institution.

"We obtained unprecedented job security for our members and we agreed to some concessions, for the good of the hospital and the community," Jan Salsich, president of the Professional and Technical Unit Local 5075 of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union, said Friday. "We're paying for the mistakes of the management that got us here in the first place, but this looks like the first step toward a good partnership with L&M."

Earlier this week, attorney Mark Russo, the special master for Westerly Hospital receivership proceedings, announced that no bids competing with L&M's $69 million offer for the hospital were received by the Tuesday deadline, putting the L&M sales agreement on track for approval at an Aug. 28 court hearing. Russo oversaw the negotiations between L&M and the unions.

Mike O'Farrell, spokesman for L&M, said agreement with the two unions had to be reached before the hearing for the sale to be approved.

The Professional and Technical Unit and the Service and Maintenance Workers Unit Local 5104 each approved contracts with similar terms and the same expiration dates by a 161-18 margin, Salsich said. Both unions made concessions in areas such as pensions and health insurance but maintained minimum staffing levels that meet national standards, she said.

The agreement also specifies that L&M will continue offering all the services currently available at Westerly Hospital for at least two years, and that Westerly Hospital will remain an acute care hospital for at least five years, terms that also were included in the sales agreement.

Judy Lawrence, president of the service employees union, said the job security provisions of the contract will benefit the community.

"We are well aware of the fact that The Westerly Hospital is the largest employer in the Town of Westerly," she said in a union news release.

With the agreement, Salsich said, the unions now have standing in the upcoming court proceedings. She said the Westerly unions will remain distinct from the unions at L&M in New London, which are part of AFT Connecticut.

Salsich said the negotiations left her feeling positive about the future of Westerly Hospital under L&M.

"It's apparent they're competent and savvy business people," she said.

j.benson@theday.com

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