AFT unions ratify contracts with L+M, Backus

The three unions representing workers at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital announced they had ratified three-year contracts with the hospital Wednesday, a year before their current contracts expire.

The negotiation process for the new contracts, which union members voted on Tuesday at L+M, represented the first time the union groups had ratified a contract since the hospital affiliated with Yale New Haven Health in 2016 and the second ratification since contract talks stalled in late 2013 and led to a strike and three-week lockout.

The announcement Wednesday came almost two weeks after the nurses' union at the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich ratified a two-year contract with that hospital.

The three L+M unions and the Backus nurses all are affiliated with the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

L+M's health care workers, registered nurses and the technicians, who represent close to 1,700 employees, are working under a three-year contract that expires in June 2019. The new contract, which will go into effect then and expire June 30, 2022, includes a 2 percent pay increase for all union members for each year of the contract. The increase could go up to 3 percent if the hospital meets certain goals for profit margins and results on patient satisfaction surveys during the fiscal years, according to AFT Connecticut spokesman Matt O'Connor.

The hospital and union negotiators had reached a tentative agreement before Tuesday's vote.

"At a time when there is so much uncertainty and upheaval affecting health care, these new agreements provide a measure of stability so that we can advance our mission for this great community," L+M President and CEO Patrick L. Green said in a statement. "I'm very proud of our partnership with AFT-Connecticut and the teamwork and effort that went into reaching these agreements."

The new contracts keep members' health care premiums frozen for a fourth year in a row and also institute a policy of automatically enrolling new employees in a retirement plan, something recently hired workers may not have previously known was available to them, O'Connor said.

"These contracts are the product of a collaborative, patient-centered relationship with hospital leadership," said Lisa D'Abrosca, the president of L+M's union representing registered professional nurses, AFT Local 5049. "They demonstrate what labor and management can accomplish by working together."

"Our working conditions are our patients' healing conditions," said Stephanie Lancaster Johnson, president of the 260-member technicians' union, AFT Local 5051. "Collective bargaining to make improvements doesn't just benefit our members; it benefits our community, too."

The agreement with the Backus nurses union, ratified during the first week of June, creates a wage scale allowing for annual pay increases for each member based on the length of their employment at the hospital in addition to a market-adjusted pay raise during the first year of the contract and a 1 percent general wage increase during the second, O'Connor said.

The 415-member nurses union and Backus had reached a tentative agreement on the contract in May, when the previous contract expired. The new contract is in effect retroactively to May 16, the expiration date, and will remain in effect until May 2020. It also increases pay differential for night shift workers and rates for hourly work, and reduces the amount employees contribute to their health care plans.

The Backus Federation of Nurses, the only union representing Backus employees, ratified its first contract with the hospital in 2011.

"Our new contract reflects the 'union difference' we've experienced over the past seven years," nurses union President Sherri Calixte said in a statement. "When we first organized, our members' top concern was fighting givebacks. Now that we've won a first-ever wage scale with 'steps,' nurses at Backus are no longer stuck in our lane and can see a real career path ahead of us."

m.shanahan@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Backus Federation of Nurses President Sherri Calixte's name.

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