Nurses and technicians at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London have voted to authorize their union leadership to call a strike unless a contract agreement is reached.
Thursday night's vote came less than 48 hours before the contract expires. The hospital’s public relations director, Mike O’Farrell, said the authorization for a strike does not mean one will happen. Notice of a nurses’ strike would come at least ten days before it begins.
The state requires hospitals make a plan if a strike does occur. Lawrence and Memorial has a plan prepared that would bring in outside staff and shift around the staff that does not strike. O’Farrell says “the team that would come into place is fully qualified health care professionals. We’re not going to compromise patient care.”
O’Farrell says the hospital’s focus is on patient safety and negotiating a contract on which both sides can agree.
President of the Nurses Union, Lisa Dabrosca, says the union does not want to strike, but they will if they have to. She says the hospital has been laying off the union’s workers and shifting work from Lawrence and Memorial to their shell corporations.
Despite O’Farrell’s assurances, Dabrosca says “the people who are replacing our laid off workers are not equally as qualified.” She notes that neither pay nor benefits are part of the problem. “We want to be able to follow our work if it moves to a clinic-based setting,” Dabrosca said.
Dabrosca expresses concern that many of their patients live in or near New London and use the bus system to get to the hospital. She says that the hospital has sent work out to places like East Lyme, Stonington, and other locations that are too far for those people to reach via the bus system. “The patients may not be okay,” she says. “We’re worried about them.”
Right now, “the ball is in the hospital’s court” Dabrosca says. “We can’t sign an agreement until they allow us to follow the work.”
One visitor at Lawrence and Memorial, Mechele Walker, was also concerned for the impact a nurses’ strike could have on patients. “The people wouldn’t get the help they need,” she fears. “It’s not a good situation.”
Lawrence and Memorial has not had a strike in the 101 years the hospital has been open.