Hospital workers call for fair treatment
DANBURY — A message of hope, solidarity, perseverance and equality was delivered at a candlelight vigil Sunday evening to supporters of hospital employees looking to unionize and receive fair contracts.
Danbury Hospital was the backdrop as union leaders, health care professionals and politicians called for management to put “patients before profits” and give fair wages to its employees, as well as support the right to organize. Community members created the event to raise awareness about the employees’ efforts. Technicians and therapists are negotiating a contract with management, and health care workers will have the chance to vote again on the possibility of unionizing. The first vote failed in June.
“We’re hoping that together we can form an alliance that Western Connecticut Health Network can’t ignore,” Connecticut Healthcare Associates President Mary Florio told the 100 people gathered. “We’re growing stronger.”
Supporters wore stickers that read, “Patients before Profits.” Some held banners for unions and signs advocating for health care professionals. Participants sang spirituals and union hymns at the beginning and end of the vigil, which was peppered with applause and cheers in English and Spanish.
“It's unfortunate that the AFT (American Federation of Teachers Connecticut) is engaging in this kind of activity,” Western Connecticut Health Network spokeswoman Andrea Rynn said in a statement Sunday.
“Contract negotiations are never resolved in the media or through demonstrations like this. We wish that instead, AFT would be more focused on collective bargaining so that we can reach a contract for Danbury Hospital technicians and therapists. While this union activity is meant to distract us, it doesn't. We will never lose sight of what matters most — our patients.”
She said the union waited several months to begin negotiating the contracts for technicians and therapists and appeared unprepared when the “bargaining in good faith” began in March.
“We want to reach a contract that is fair, competitive and helps us to address numerous financial challenges, including Gov. (Dannel P.) Malloy's $55 million cuts to our budget,” Rynn said. “We continue to make ourselves available for discussions as we remain focused on providing the best possible care for our patients."
The vigil comes just days after the National Labor Relations Board scheduled a hearing to review accusations of illegal actions Western Connecticut Health Network managers and consultants took against a group of about 800 employees at Danbury and New Milford hospitals.
The hearing is set for January, according to a news release from the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, the union representing technicians, therapists and registered nurses at the hospitals.
“All we’re asking for is a fair contract that’s about the patient care and employees,” said Anna Costa Lloyd, a vascular technician at Danbury Hospital.
Many spoke of a need to bring the hospital’s caliber back to where it was, referencing its recent two-star rating.
Anna Princiotti, a member of the Danbury and New Milford Healthcare Workers United Organizing Committee, urged management to make a fair contract, listen to what the employees have to say and settle it.
“Without these people, all that equipment, all that bricks and mortar doesn’t account for anything,” he said.
New Milford Nurses Union President Joanne Chapin said it’s upsetting to see people who work so hard not treated fairly. She spoke of a man who cleans the operating rooms and how he received a raise and is now making $13.05 an hour after working at the hospital for 15 years.
“That’s who we’re here to fight for and help,” Chapin said.
The Rev. Barbara Fast, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, said the larger community was there to support and shine a light on everything health care workers do and their calling to serve others.
“The dignity and health of patients goes hand in hand with the dignity and health of health care professionals,” Fast said.
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