The caregivers seek to protect and improve the quality of services they provide, stabilize the workforce, and achieve greater economic security for themselves and their families through collective bargaining. The techs have chosen to unite in AFT Connecticut, the labor federation that includes the unions representing nurses at Danbury and New Milford Hospitals, both owned and operated by WCHN.
“When management started making cuts and understaffing our departments we knew we had to do something about it,” said Renee Stefanko, who has worked as a radiology technician at Danbury Hospital for 13 years. “We saw how the nurses were treated and wanted to have the same level of respect from management. The work we do is important and we are excited to be able to sit down and start fixing problems together,” Stefanko said.
Stefanko’s comments refer to fundamental collective bargaining rights that the acute care facility’s registered nurses (RNs) utilize as the primary mechanism for addressing workplace and patient care issues. The techs intend to improve the quality of services they provide by addressing short staffing and a lack of job security in future contract negotiations with WCHN and hospital administration.
“It’s not just unfair that these hardworking techs and clinicians are treated as a second-class workforce,” said RN Mary Consoli, president of the Danbury Nurses Union, Unit 47, AFT Local 5047. “It’s a threat to the long-term health of our acute care facility. Our experience has shown that a voice on the job reduces employee turn-over and increases the quality of care,” said Consoli.
In their mission statement, the organizing committee addressed the primary reason for organizing, saying “we can better advocate for our patients, our community, our families, and ourselves.” The document also conveyed to WCHN and hospital administration that “without a unified voice we cannot hope to have our input heard when important decisions are being made.”
“These hard-working caregivers deserve to be treated by their employer with respect,” said Melodie Peters, a former state senator and president of AFT Connecticut. “If network leadership believes in the ‘values’ listed in WCHN’s own mission statement, they should direct hospital management to stop their intimidation and harassment of these techs and clinicians. They should tell management instead to sit down at the bargaining table and start working together for the sake of their patients and their community,” she said.
Peters’ remarks refer to aggressive and illegal anti-union tactics employed by the Danbury Hospital administration in response to the techs and clinicians’ organizing efforts. AFT Connecticut last week filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) citing an oppressive “Non-Solicitation Policy” curtailing workers’ legal rights to organize. The ULP also cites unlawful surveillance, coercion and discrimination against pro-union employees engaging in activity protected under federal labor law.
“As both a patient of WCHN, and the relative of a patient who has recently spent a lot of time at the hospital, I have been impressed by the professionalism and compassion of the caregivers,” said State Rep. Bob Godfrey (D-110). “They deserve better treatment. They deserve to hold accountable millionaire managers who resort to layoffs before cutting their own compensation. They deserve to make their own decisions about unionizing without coercion. WCHN’s board of directors should do the right thing and direct management to immediately halt any anti-union activity at our community hospital,” said Rep. Godfrey, who serves as Deputy Speaker of the legislature’s House of Representatives.
“These charges are very troubling, and if upheld by the labor board, concern me for two primary reasons,” said State Rep. David Arconti, Jr. (D-109). “First, I would expect WCHN and hospital leadership to respect the free choice of all — not just some — of its employees to form a union. And second, I would hope the administration would seek collaboration, not confrontation, with their employees in order to assure the quality care that our community depends on,” said Rep. Arconti, who serves on the legislature’s Public Health Committee.
AFT Connecticut, the largest union of acute care hospital workers in the state, represents approximately 125 registered nurses at New Milford Hospital and 600 RNs at Danbury Hospital. Follow the labor federation on Twitter at @AFTCT and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
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