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Windham Hospital Caregivers Protect Community Access to Vital Services
Local and state union leaders are today recognizing the membership for making significant economic concessions while holding to the principle of "patients before profits" in order to achieve the settlement.
"Our number one priority has been protecting community access to vital services," said Leigh Johnson (right), a registered nurse (RN) with 36 years of bedside care experience, including 29 at WMCH. "That meant defending contract provisions which allowed us to negotiate changes or cutbacks in services and jobs. Our settlement retained that language, empowering us to continue our historic role as advocates for our patients and ourselves," said Johnson, who serves as president of the Windham Hospital Nurses Union, AFT Local 5041.
In earlier proposals by HHC, the hospital's representatives had stripped away the ability of caregivers to negotiate cut-backs, shut-downs or eventual closure of the hospital. But during negotiations overseen by a federal mediator, management agreed to withdraw the language which was one last hurdle to the final settlement reached yesterday/this week with members of the unions' bargaining committees.
Click here to watch union members picketing in October outside Windham Hospital.
"As caregivers, we understand the challenges facing our community hospital," said Heidi Kolle (left), a patient access services associate in Emergency Room Registration/Admitting with 26 years experience at WMCH. "We entered negotiations last spring knowing that years of staffing and service cuts had taken their toll. That's why our members approved an agreement with significant sacrifices and that links our success to the hospital's success," said Kolle, president of Windham Memorial Community Hospital Employees United, AFT Local 5099 which represents service workers and support staff.
Kolle’s comments refer to a breakthrough agreement to index wages by linking them to WMCH's profitability summary during the term of the contracts. Annual and periodic pay increases would be frozen following any year in which the facility reported a loss to the state health department's Office of Health Care Access (OHCA). When the facility posts a positive operating margin, members would receive increases of up to 3 percent for the following year.
Click here for recent press reporting on the hospital's operating losses.
"I am so proud of these hard-working caregivers for standing by their principles," said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. "They have shown that collective bargaining is how to work together to make improvements -- not just in working conditions, but also in patient care. They also showed each other and the community what solidarity looks like," added Hochadel in a nod to some deep divisions that arose on a wide range of issues. “We always seek to be collaborative in negotiations,” she noted, pointing to the resolution of a dispute over workloads by mutually agreeing to refer such matters to a labor-management committee for review prior to implementation.