Nurses and technicians at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital voted overwhelmingly om Wednesday. to authorize a strike.
All but 28 union members voted in favor of a strike, AFT Connecticut spokesman Eric Bailey said.
Members are involved in a contract dispute over sick-time benefits with the hospital in New London. If the dispute remains unresolved, the strike could happen as soon as Nov. 16.
The hospital's public relations director, Kelly Anthony, said he is confident that there will be an agreement but the hospital is working on a contingency plan just in case.
At issue is the number of sick days that nurses and technicians get and whether they can be carried over from year to year. Workers said the hospital would change the current policy from 12 paid sick days to five per year without allowing them to accumulate.
Greg Kotecki, chief union negotiator for Local 5051 of the AFT, the union representing LPN’s and technicians, told NBC Connecticut that the sick-time policy poses a threat to patients at the hospital.
“By changing this system so drastically, you are going to force workers to actually go to work sick, which could then actually create a public risk,” he said.
Kotecki also said that Lawrence & Memorial has already had many health care workers come down with traditional flu, as well as H1N1.
"Our sick time will not be taken away," Katherine Martin, president of Local 5051, said. "It's not like we're arguing over wages. We're arguing over the safety of our patients."
Employees who need more than five days would receive 60 percent of their pay per sick day through a short-term disability insurance system that would be administered by a third-party company, but it wouldn't take effect until seven days after the same illness, The Day of New London reports.
"We are preparing strike contingency plans accordingly," Kelly Anthony, hospital spokesman, said in a statement. "We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union in the hope that both sides can achieve their goals without economic hardship to our employees and their families."
“Aside from the economic devastation it will do to the employees,” Kotecki said, they can either go to work sick or they have to wait seven days under proposed system to get even 1 day of 60-percent taxable benefits.