Nurses, Technicians at Lawrence and Memorial Ratify New Contract

Feb 3, 2014

Hospital CEO Bruce Cummings addresses a joint press conference with union leaders Monday evening.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR
The locked-out workers maintained a 24-hour picket outside the hospital's main gate during last year's dispute.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

Nurses and technicians at New London's Lawrence and Memorial Hospital voted Monday to ratify a contract deal struck late last week between unions and management.

The four-day strike followed by an almost three-week lockout at the end of last year marked a low point in employee-management relationships at the New London hospital. CEO Bruce Cummings said this new agreement will be a turning point. "As ratified," he said, "this agreement brings an end to one of the most challenging times in the 100-plus-year history of Lawrence and Memorial."

Almost 800 workers are covered by the new contract. The unions involved said that fewer than 20 workers voted against the deal, which was struck late last week.

Unusually, the two sides are keeping the exact terms of the contract agreement a secret. Chief union negotiator Greg Kotecki said that after such a bitter disagreement, there's a good reason. "Because we think that at any point," he said, "people will start looking at it as a win-loss, and who won or lost. And we don't think that's going to be advantageous for moving this relationship forward. I will say that I think you can figure out that the unions' interests were met, by virtue of the vote."

At the heart of the unions' grievances was the transfer of work away from the main hospital campus without the promise of job security for members. There had been little movement in the dispute for weeks following the end of the lockout on December 18, but both sides said a hearing of grievances before the National Labor Relations Board focused minds on reaching agreement.

Kotecki said they were also motivated by the fact that new contract negotiations are coming up for other groups of workers. "And we cannot," he said, "for the betterment of patient care, always be at one another. We need to think of a better way to move forward."

The mood of compromise at the joint press conference was sharply at odds with the confrontational tactics of the last few weeks.

Registered nurse Dale Cunningham, who has been at L&M for 23 years, is a union officer and works in the neonatal ICU. She said that she's seen a big shift in the way the hospital has been managed in the last decade. "Corporations are looking at hospital with thoughts like they run factories," she said. "That's what we keep trying to tell them. We don't make widgets. We take care of patients, and each patient is different."

Cunningham and others workers said they're hopeful that the deal that's been reached, and the memory of the difficult labor dispute, will lead to a better understanding in the future.