Making Gains through the "Power of Solidarity"

Following lengthy and often challenging negotiations, members of two AFT Connecticut-affiliated local unions at Manchester Memorial Hospital (MMH) in late March ratified new two-year contracts. They are the first successor agreements collectively bargained since the acute care facility and its parent Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN) were in 2016 taken over by Prospect Medical Holdings.
 
IB Image"I am proud to have been a part of a successful negotiation,” said Glen Maloney (top, left, in photo), who works in the hospital's building and grounds department. "Through our persistence, flexibility and willingness to compromise, we made real gains," added Maloney, chief steward for our Manchester Service and Maintenance Employees United.
 
Economic advances in the contracts include four wage increases over the two-year term, ratification bonuses and two scheduled boosts to premium pay (or "on call”) rates. They also provide first-ever preceptor rates for members when taking on training or instruction roles.
 
"It always feels good to have the protection of a contract," said Diane Carlson, MLT(ASCP) (bottom, left, above), a medical lab technician in the hospital's laboratory. "I was confident about our tentative agreements," she said, referring to the strong majorities voting in favor of ratification. "I also knew there was a lot of work to be done to have a strong union going forward," added Carlson, the president of our Manchester Technical & LPN Employees.
 
Carlson, Maloney and the negotiating committee also successfully held the line on employees' health insurance costs. Both contracts include caps on the contributions Prospect can charge members towards their individual or family plan's premium shares at a time when expenditures for medical benefits continue to rise.
 
Click here for additional photos of members at MMH voting on their tentative agreements.
 
Union members in Connecticut's public higher education institutions in April learned that implementation of a long-delayed award won through arbitration was finally set to move forward. The State Employees Retirement Commission (SERC) ruled that eligible employees wishing to change their choice of retirement benefits could do so without negative tax repercussions.
 
The welcome news dates back to 2008 when members raised their collective voices over management steering employees into the Alternate Retirement Program (ARP). Leaders of the unions in the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) representing higher education professionals took action and filed a formal grievance to both end the practice and win justice. 
 
When staff in the state’s labor relations office balked, union leaders pressed the issue to arbitration, winning the grievance — the so-called "SAG Award" — in September of 2010. Implementation was quickly halted when the retirement commission announced prior authorization from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would be necessary before proceeding.
 
Fast forward to this spring and SERC's long-overdue ruling. The state comptroller’s retirement division, which will facilitate the process, announced the 90-day window for eligible members to switch plans or remain in ARP will open September 14.
 
"The goal was simple; empower those of us in ARP to choose the State Employees Retirement System (SERS)," said Bill Garrity, RN, an emergency department nurse at UConn Health in Farmington. "We knew the execution would be complex, since we're talking about members' retirement security and pension investments. I'm carefully considering my options — but winning the right to choose shows the power of solidarity," added Garrity, the president of our University Health Professionals (UHP) union.
 
Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about the SAG award.
 
Members of our East Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals last month by an overwhelming margin ratified a new three-year agreement with their school board. The win came after a months-long drive that mobilized colleagues and the community to stand up for vital classroom support staff.
 
District officials last December first proposed a painful series of budget cuts that targeted paraeducators and the services they provide. Teaming up with certified teachers, leaders and rank and file members made their voices heard at school board and town council meetings.
 
Click here for photos of paras last winter urging officials reject austerity policies.
 
Through collective action, five members facing the elimination of their jobs were protected. While an important victory, that set the stage for contract negotiations dominated by resisting management's push for painful concessions. 
 
"We were successful in fighting-back a long list of givebacks," said Karen Vendette, a special education resource para at O'Brien STEM Elementary School. "It wasn't easy; when the board claimed they were short on resources, they weren't just bluffing. At the same time, by turning out to save jobs we showed that we're worth more to our students," added Vendette, who serves as our local union's vice president.
 
Economic gains in the new contract include an overall 3-1/2% increase in wages and reduced health insurance premium rates for the first year. Additionally, the negotiating committee secured rights to labor-management dispute resolution and for additional members to attend union functions.
 
In addition to announcements on our social media channels, going forward we'll be sharing collective bargaining wins for members here at our website on a regular basis. Suggest your local union's victories for us to pass on!
 
Click here to send e-mail to AFT Connecticut's communications coordinator.