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Healthcare Workers Coming Together to “Build a Better Hospital”

The diverse group of healthcare professionals deliver the greatest share of direct patient care at both acute care facilities, which are operated by the non-profit Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN). The service, maintenance, environmental workers and nursing assistants have chosen to unite in AFT Connecticut, the labor federation that has long represented the registered nurses (RNs) at the hospitals. Medical technicians, clinicians and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) at both facilities last November formed their own AFT-affiliated union through a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. 
 
“I know I play a vital role in delivering quality care for all our hospital’s patients,” said Maritiza Hernandez, a housekeeper with 16 years of experience at Danbury Hospital. “What I do every day makes a difference in maintaining a safe, sanitary environment. But infection control is hard to maintain with the staffing shortages that management has forced on us and our patients,” Hernandez said.
 
Hernandez’ comments refer to caregiver staffing shortages at both Danbury and New Milford Hospitals that current union members have for many years documented and which The News-Times has recently reported. The issue has been cited as a primary factor by healthcare workers signing cards pledging their free choice to be represented by AFT Connecticut in negotiations over working conditions.
 
“We’re forming a union to protect patient care services and gain respect for healthcare workers,” said Elizabeth Duarte, a certified nursing assistant (CNA). “When top executives who are paid three quarters of a million dollars admit to cutting staff and threaten more cuts to care, we have to stand up for our community,” said Duarte, who has 17 years of experience at Danbury Hospital.
 
Duarte’s comments refer to remarks by WCHN’s chief financial officer (CFO) in a Sunday News-Times article acknowledging staff layoffs to save money and claiming “there isn’t anywhere left to cut.” CFO Stephen Rosenberg, whose 2013 compensation was reported as $731,588.00, was also quoted threatening additional patient care services, saying “programs may have to be cut back” to achieve further savings.
 
“How dare top executives talk about more and deeper cuts to patient care while disrespecting both hospitals’ healthcare workers,” said RN Mary Consoli, president of the Danbury Nurses Union, Unit 47, AFT Local 5047. “These vital caregivers are lifelines between us and our patients each and every day. They deserve to be treated by management as true partners and real professionals, not subjected to harassment and intimidation,” said Consoli.
 
Consoli’s remarks refer to management’s unlawful anti-union tactics at both Danbury and New Milford Hospitals in response to healthcare workers’ efforts to unite for a voice in patient care. AFT Connecticut on April 24 filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the NLRB citing illegal attempts to limit workers’ protected legal rights. In January, WCHN agreed to a settlement over similar charges of surveillance, coercion and discrimination against pro-union techs, clinicians and LPNs at both facilities during their successful 2014 organizing drive.
 
AFT Connecticut, the largest union of acute care health professionals in the state, represents approximately 725 registered nurses and 260 technicians, clinicians and license practical nurses at Danbury and New Milford Hospitals. Follow the labor federation on Twitter at @AFTCT and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
 
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