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“U & I in Union:” Striking to Shield Good Jobs

William Schmauder, CCT (right in photo above), is a certified cardiology technologist at Lawrence and Memorial (L+M) Hospital in New London where he has 23 years of patient care experience. Mary Ellen Masciale, NDT (second from right), a neurodiagnostic lab technician, has for 28 years worked at the acute care facility. As active leaders of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated L&M Federation of Technologists, they believe that advocating for patients is a part of their vocation.
 
Dale Cunningham, RN (second from left, above) has 28 years experience as a staff nurse in L+M’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Lisa D’Abrosca, RN (left) is a nurse in the facility’s medical/surgical hospice unit where she has 15 years of service. As leaders of our L&M Registered Nurses union, they agree that speaking up for those they care for means speaking out for their colleagues who provide it. 
 
The members of both locals five years ago demonstrated their collective commitment when they walked out of their hospital in a four-day strike. The work stoppage followed concerted efforts to block L+M administrators’ scheme to outsource facility services and displace the caregivers that provided them.
 
According to Masciale, who serves as her local’s secretary, the move “would have been very detrimental to our work unit.” She said that shifting care away from the hospital’s main campus would have also “broken our unions” by replacing members with staff who lacked contractual protections.
 
Click here for press reporting at the time on efforts to negotiate a resolution to the outsourcing crisis.
 
Hospital administrators responded to the strike by illegally locking out the nearly 900 members of both locals. Cunnigham, the secretary/treasurer for her union, said that members “showed up in numbers” despite wintry weather conditions on the picket lines and mounting economic hardship at home.
 
For Schmauder, the member mobilization liaison for his local, the lockout capped a long slide in community support for L+M as an institution. He said the administration had in the preceding years been “chipping away at services people counted on,” eroding trust in the hospital.
 
By taking a stand for patient care, union members built strong public support and “reignited the spirit of caring,” according to Schmauder.
 
Click here to watch highlights of labor advocates teaming up to support members locked-out during the 2013 holiday season.
 
Collective action also won the backing of local, regional and statewide elected officials. City council and school board members, mayors, state legislators, members of Congress, the attorney general and the governor frequently visited the picket line.
 
“Years of political networking really paid off,” said Cunnigham. “It made our message stronger to have them stand with us,” she added.
 
Click here to watch our public service spot thanking the community and political leaders for their collective support.
 
Masciale observed that the “solidarity of our members” emerged as the most crucial element to an eventual negotiation of strong contracts resolving the dispute. She said that, five years later, higher levels of engagement and involvement are rooted in what was “a very difficult but rewarding experience.”
 
“We watched out for each other,” added Schmauder. “That’s something I pass on to new members at our orientations to this day,” he said.
 
Access to hospital facilities for the purpose of educating new employees about the benefits of their union is one of both locals’ contractual gains since returning to patients’ bedside. Members have also won annual pay raises, operating margin bonuses, collective bargaining rights for “per diem” staff and a diversity recruitment program in two successive agreements negotiated with management.
 
The strike additionally yielded significant changes in L+M’s top brass, from the chief nursing officer (CNO) to the president of its board of incorporators. Describing her relationship as local union president with the facility’s new CEO, D’Abrosca said that while they don’t always agree, “there’s a new commitment to labor-management partnership.”
 
Click here for press reporting on the arrival of the current CNO quoting D’Abrosca.
 
Engaged union members working together with an administration that respects its workforce has resulted in a hospital “where we feel like we’re a family,” according to Schmauder. He said that the risk of walking out five years ago has been outweighed by the benefit of “getting our community hospital back.”
 
Click here to watch Schmauder, Masciale, Cunnigham and D’Abrosca share more on what they’ve gained since winning their strike.
 
Relatively few labor disputes require such dramatic direct action to achieve a resolution as that faced by union members at L+M Hospital. The outcome demonstrates the value of a robust labor movement at a time when working people, whether in the private or public sectors, need a strong voice on the job.
 
Click here for more on our “U & I in Union” campaign to defend our rights and freedoms in the workplace and our communities.
 
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