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UPDATED: Backus nurses vote to authorize 2-day strike if demands not met

Norwich — Registered nurses at Backus Hospital have authorized an unfair labor practice strike amid ongoing contract negotiations.

Representatives of the 415-member Backus Federation of Nurses, Local 5149 of AFT Connecticut, and Hartford HealthCare, the hospital’s owner, met late Monday afternoon in a virtual negotiating session. On Sunday, union members overwhelmingly voted to authorize the union's bargaining committee to issue a 10-day notice of a two-day strike if talks reach an impasse.

“Hospital management and the network’s executives are negotiating in bad faith,” Sherri Dayton, the union’s president, said in a statement issued in advance of Monday’s negotiations. “Not only have they cut back on pandemic sick pay, they’ve even retaliated against a member for raising safety concerns. That’s not how health industry leaders who value safe patient care should behave.”

Donna Handley, the Backus Hospital president, said management was disappointed in the outcome of the union’s vote.

“We have always believed, and continue to believe, the best path forward for everyone is to work together and find common ground,” Handley said in a statement. “That is why we have not once walked away from the negotiating table. Our latest offer includes a significant increase in nurse wages and enhancements to other benefits, and we look forward to continuing negotiations in good faith.

“We will take appropriate steps to ensure that access to care will continue without disruption for our patients and the community in the unfortunate event of a strike," said said. "Backus Hospital has not received any strike notification from the union at this time. But regardless of a strike, Backus Hospital, and all services, will remain open and accessible to the community.”

For months, the nurses have expressed concerns about supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, particularly masks worn when treating COVID-19 patients.

One nurse was among nine Backus staff who recently tested positive for the coronavirus disease after the hospital treated an infected patient from Three Rivers Healthcare, a nursing home where a COVID-19 outbreak resulted in dozens of positive cases among residents and staff and four residents died.

Dayton said by phone Monday that more than 80% of the union’s members participated in Sunday’s vote, which took place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the union hall in Norwich. She said 88% of those who voted favored the strike authorization, which will enable the bargaining committee to act if negotiations fail to produce a settlement.

The committee is authorized to give management 10 days’ notice of a two-day unfair labor practice strike, Dayton said.

Among the issues in dispute, she said, are management’s policy regarding pay for nurses who have to quarantine after being tested for COVID-19. While management originally provided sick pay for those who were symptomatic and were required to quarantine regardless of the outcome of their test, the policy was changed to provide pay only for those who tested positive. A percentage of test results are false.

Dayton also said management took action against a nurse who questioned the withholding of N95 respirator masks in certain situations, stripping her of supervisory duties that come with additional pay.

“On Friday, we sent them a counterproposal to their last offer, which we rejected,” Dayton said. “Today (Monday), we’ll present it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they say they need more time to review it.”

“Hundreds of nurses walking off the job is not inevitable,” Jessica Harris, the union vice president, said. “The community expects Backus management and Hartford HealthCare's executives to take these issues seriously and settle our safety concerns. That's why our members voted overwhelmingly for an unfair labor practice strike if they refuse."

The union’s contract, originally scheduled to end May 31, was extended to July 31 and has expired.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

 

 

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