The New Milford nurses' union members were set to vote Thursday, Aug. 8, on contract concessions requested by the Western Connecticut Health Network.

The union faced losing four nursing positions at New Milford Hospital and having hours cut from two other nursing positions, said Joanne Chapin, New Milford's nurses' union president.

Members of the Danbury nurses' union overwhelmingly rejected Western's request in an Aug. 1 vote.

Hospital officials say the concessions would have saved 21 nurses in Danbury from joining the unemployment line.

Danbury nurses' union President Mary Consoli noted "the corporation stated these concessions were necessary to avoid the 21 nursing layoffs it chose to implement, but offered no guarantee that more layoffs would not occur.

"They could have taken these concessions and then laid off more nurses next month," she added. "We would not, under any circumstances, accept such terms when our top priority is our patients. We simply cannot jeopardize safe staffing levels."

AFT Connecticut did not release the number of members who cast votes to protect the integrity of the vote, O'Connor said.

Andrea Rynn, WCHN spokeswoman, said hospital officials carefully considered actions that would "have the least impact to our patients and the care they need."

The 25 nursing layoffs are part of 116 positions proposed for elimination at Danbury and New Milford hospitals last month by WCHN.

Executives said the cuts are required because of a reduction of $30 million in state budget assistance. The job eliminations would leave the network with about 4,280 employees.

"Unfortunately, the state cuts went through and they are today's reality," Rynn said. "We simply have to take steps to reduce our operating costs."

Union officials say the hospital could have reduced executive salaries or its 3 percent profit margin, that WCHN executives are to blame and not the state or union officials.

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