HARTFORD, CT. - Lawrence + Memorial Hospital management said Friday that nurses and technicians would not be accepted back at the end four-day strike if they go through with the threatened job action beginning Wednesday.
Nearly 800 nurses and technicians had said they would go out on a four-day strike because they are dissatisfied with job protection language offered by the New London hospital.
The contract that had covered the workers expired Nov. 16. The two sides plan to continue negotiating through Tuesday.
About 20 AFT union members laid off by the hospital in the past year lost their jobs when the work moved to outpatient facilities, the union says. The company acknowledges it has not transferred any hospital workers to new outpatient facilities.
"The union's stubborn and destructive antics have left us no choice but to impose a lockout," President and CEO Bruce Cummings said. He said union negotiators said the four-day strike would be followed by other short-term strikes.
If the lockout happens, temporary nurses and technicians would be brought in to replace the 540 registered nurses and 250 other health professionals. The company did not say how many have been hired so far, but it's not enough to continue business as usual next week. Some elective surgeries and procedures would be put on hold, at least at first, until more replacement workers could be found, the company said.
The lockout would last until the union agreed to sign a contract that management found acceptable, Cummings said. "There is no way of telling how long that will take," he said, and he suggested that nurses and techs try to make the union representatives back down.
Stephanie Johnson, president of the union local that represents the technicians and licensed practical nurses, said that won't happen.
"We remain hopeful that we can reach a mutual agreement and avoid a strike," she said in an emailed statement. "However, we are standing strong and won't be bullied into giving up on our patients and our community."
Cummings said, "We have made numerous proposals to the union, including our most flexible and comprehensive offer yesterday, only to have it rejected out of hand."
At the end of his lengthy written remarks distributed at a press conference, he said: "The bottom line is that we have provided our nurses and techs with every reasonable assurance that their jobs will not be transferred. It is as close to absolute job security as possible in a field that is changing quickly and drastically. In fact, the vast majority of these union jobs were protected in our last proposal. Sadly, the unions either don't understand or don't accept the notion that no one in this or most other fields can have absolute job security."
Matt O'Connor, AFT spokesman, said Cummings' description is not what happened. He said management told union negotiators that the infectious diseases, diabetes and occupational health units would all be moving off campus, and the company would make no promise that nurses and techs who work in those units now would be allowed to transfer to the new offices.
O'Connor said 126 nurses and 154 licensed practical nurses or technicians work in those areas.
Still, the union had stopped demanding written job protection. "It was a huge concession," O'Connor said.
In exchange, the union asked for a moratorium on moves until the National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge rules on what the company owes the union when it transfers these jobs.
NLRB prosecutors have sided with the union, but the judge holds a hearing for both sides. The NLRB system moves slowly, and it could take a year or more before the judge would issue a ruling.
AFT also said it wanted both sides to abide by the judge's decision.
Although the NLRB alleges the company didn't fulfill its duty to negotiate about the transfers, the law does not require that union members keep their jobs when work is moved to off-site subsidiaries. ___