By Nelson Oliveira

About 800 nursing assistants and other workers at New Milford and Danbury hospitals voted Friday, June 19 by an unannounced tally against joining a union.

Some workers at the two hospitals, which are member facilities of the Western Connecticut Health Network, had said inadequate staffing and less than ideal treatment from management were motivations to unionize.

An umbrella labor organization, AFT Connecticut, led the organizing drive and wanted to negotiate for higher pay, which is now between $12 and $20 an hour.

The president of the two hospitals, Daniel DeBarba, said in an emailed statement he is pleased with the vote.

"We are committed to continuing to build an environment of respect and open communication with employees, and this process has provided an opportunity to have a robust dialogue with our staff," DeBarba said. "We look forward to implementing some new initiatives and best practices that will better serve our employees and patients.”

“Our employees are the heart and soul of our organization," he added.

Matt O'Connor, a spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said the vote was decided by a narrow margin.

The union already represents about 725 nurses and 250 technicians at the two hospitals.

The labor group has accused hospital managers of interference in the unionizing process.

Managers are accused of offering pay increases to discourage union support, dismissing the importance of unions to dissuade employees from voting for AFT Connecticut and other unlawful statements, the National Labor Relations Board said.

The vote, O’Connor said, is “an indication that the efforts by the network to block the workers from a free and fair choice in this election had an impact.”

Another issue leading to the unionizing attempt was that workers have been required to attend meetings with representatives of National Labor Consultants, where the atmosphere was “one of harassment, coercion and intimidation,” O’Connor said.

“They went as far as to hire union busters, outsiders, to come in to the hospital and interfere with the efforts,” O’Connor said. “This wasn’t just what they claim to be an educational effort.”

“This was a full-fledged attempt to violate the legal and protected rights of these workers to freely choose whether they wanted to form a union or not,” he added.

The hospital network since fired the consulting firm after learning individuals from the agency have “backgrounds contrary to our organizational values,” hospital spokeswoman Andrea Rynn told The Spectrum.

Martin Dreiss, the chief operating officer of Natonal Labor Consultants, served 33 months in federal prison on security fraud charges, according to federal documents from the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York. The charges were filed in 1999.

Although hospital workers did not join the union, O’Connor said, the effort was nonetheless a success.

“They came together and raised their voices collectively and they have already made significant change,” he said. “They didn’t gain the certification from the federal labor board for their union but, for all intents and purposes, they’ve already shown they’re stronger together.”

The Associated Press and staff writer Susan Tuz contributed to this report.