Talks Canceled in Lawrence and Memorial Hospital Dispute

Dec 10, 2013

Union negotiators wait at the Olympic Best Western Hotel in Groton.
Credit Harriet Jones

There's been no progress yet towards ending the labor dispute at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London. Talks between unions and management scheduled for today were canceled.

Eight hundred registered nurses and techs have now been locked out of their jobs at L&M for eight days, following a four-day strike. That's taking a toll. Lynn Betta, a registered nurse, said that she and her partner both work at the hospital. "So there's no income coming in in our household right now at all," she said. "But we're quite frugal people anyways, and we did save for the strike. We knew it was going to come to this."

Betta was one of about 12 rank and file union members who turned up at a hotel in Groton Tuesday where negotiations had been scheduled to take place. Union leaders made a point by turning up at the venue to wait for management despite the cancelation of the talks. The issue behind the cancelation: unions want an open session, with workers allowed to sit in and hear the discussions.

Matt O'Connor of the labor federation AFT Connecticut said, "We feel in this environment, in this climate, with so much misinformation being put out there by the corporation, we really need to have all of our members in the room to bear witness to this process."

L&M spokesman Mike O'Farrell agreed that, historically, negotiations have been in open session. He said that after 15 unproductive sessions, the hospital management believes the union is indulging in theatrics. "Obviously," he said, "we're in a tough spot, because we haven't come to an agreement yet. It's about serious business now. It's about coming into a room, and sitting down, and having face-to-face conversations, and getting a deal done. When there are outside observers, that doesn't happen."

The main sticking point in the talks so far has been around job security. L&M wants to reserve the right to move non-urgent care off the main hospital campus. The union is concerned that may mean layoffs. 

O'Farrell said they must accept that health care is undergoing radical change. "The environment that we're dealing with is uncertain," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen in six months, let alone three years. The contract that just expired had no provisions for job security at all -- none. Now we're presenting something that we think does a fairly strong job of that."

Neither side would say when talks may reopen. Some workers have said they feel caught in the middle, and they want their representatives to go back to the table in closed session if need be. Stephanie Johnson of the techs union said that's not a majority view. "We haven't heard from our membership that they want us to just go without them," she said. "If that was the case, and they wanted us to do that, then of course we would do that."