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“U & I in Union:” Helping Colleagues See “Better Days Ahead”

Wendy Kurtzman (left, bottom row in photo above) is a phlebotomist in the laboratory at Rockville General Hospital (RGH) in Vernon. She has for 29 years worked for the Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN), which manages operations at the 232-bed acute care facility. Last summer she stepped up to be part of a union organizing drive to address stagnant wages, degraded health benefits and lack of any say in working conditions.
 
The effort sought to unite approximately 150 employees in a variety of vital support roles, from certified nursing assistants (CNA) to unit coordinators to nutrition assistants. For Kurtzman, serving on the RGH Healthcare Workers Union organizing committee opened her eyes to “a lot of issues important to co-workers in other departments.”
 
“This was bigger than me,” said Kurtzman.
 
Organizing committee members also discovered the scale of a union election campaign; fortunately, other groups of employees at the hospital had previously succeeded. Kurtzman said those colleagues were instrumental in helping them see “better days ahead.”
 
Click here for our announcement last fall of the results of the healthcare workers union election.
 
Glen Maloney (right, bottom row) has for 17 years worked as an engineering mechanic for ECHN. He also serves as the chief steward of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Manchester Memorial Hospital (MMH) Service and Skilled Maintenance Employees United, which represents support staff at multiple network facilities. Now based at RGH, Maloney was among the first of the union leaders Kurtzman and her organizing committee colleagues turned to for assistance.
 
Maloney was “more than willing to jump in and help as best we could.” He added that he “took it to heart” that many of his co-workers lacked any mechanism for improving their working conditions.
 
“They had been beaten up quite a bit,” Maloney said, adding that they deserved a seat at the table with their employer to negotiate better pay and benefits. “They needed something like we have in our contracts,” he said.
 
Click here for a summary of agreements ratified last spring by Maloney and fellow union members at MMH.
 
Nancy Lawson (left, top row) has for four years worked as a patient access associate in RGH’s registration department. She quickly signed the organizing committee’s petition for the facility’s unrepresented workforce because she previously benefited from “the union difference.”
 
“My family was union even before I started in healthcare,” said Lawson, a member of one of two affiliated locals while working at Windham Community Memorial Hospital in Willimantic. 
 
Lawson’s personal history and “belief in the union” helped calm a lot of fears among co-workers. Those concerns were compounded by the fact that ECHN has been purchased by Prospect Medical Holdings, a California-based for-profit corporation. Theirs was the first new union organizing drive to be launched since the 2016 acquisition.
 
Click here for reporting during the network’s take-over process on the ECHN’s workforce and community’s collective concern.
 
Explaining that collective bargaining rights would mean “no longer would you have someone that could intimidate you,” Lawson encouraged many to join her in signing the petition.
 
Karen Ward, RN (right, top row), is a charge nurse in the medical/surgical unit at RGH, where she has worked for three years. She currently serves on the negotiating committee for our Rockville Hospital Nurses Union, which in 2009 became the first group of employees at the facility to successfully organize.
 
Ward understood why this additional group sought representation and a voice on the job because she began her career at RGH as an “at-will” CNA. “The benefits of having a contract definitely outweigh any of not being union,” she said.
 
That was why Ward joined fellow members to assist the RGH healthcare workers in their struggle. She said that the vital support to her fellow nurses provided by CNAs, housekeepers, service staff and so many others made it obvious that “they deserved better.”
 
“I was a shoulder to lean on, a sounding board and someone they could talk to if they had questions,” Ward added. 
 
She was “really gratified to see them lift themselves up” when a majority of the healthcare workers chose “Union YES.”
 
Click here to watch Ward, Lawson, Maloney and Kurtzman share more on the role  of workplace solidarity in the organizing drive.
 
The active support of their sisters and brothers with labor representation was a crucial element in empowering the RGH healthcare workers to win their election. Their example demonstrates what can be accomplished when working people stand up for each other, and shows how the “union difference” benefits everyone in the workplace.
 
Click here for more on our “U & I in Union” campaign to empower and protect a voice for all working people.
 
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