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State, local, and federal leaders show support for Windham nurses on strike

The nurses said they face unfair working conditions at Windham Hospital with low wages, poor insurance, and mandatory overtime.

WINDHAM, Conn. — It’s day two of a strike started by Windham Hospital nurses.

As the union members lined Mansfield Ave in Willimantic for the second morning in a row, they were joined by state, local, and federal leaders. A hundred nurses in Local Union 5041 said they want better pay, better insurance, and no more mandatory overtime. They said they're facing unfair labor conditions.

That message was heard loud and clear at a rally outside the hospital on Friday.

RELATED: Windham Hospital workers go on strike for 48 hours

“During COVID...you were in this hospital, every single day, helping people. For that, you deserve a Nobel prize, not walking a line," said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

“This is more than just a paycheck, right? This is about respect. This is about having a safe hospital for the Windham community," said Jan Hochadel, President of AFT Connecticut.

The union leaders were joined by state, local, and federal representatives, fighting for worker rights and the right to unionize.

"They know that it is justice to make sure that nurses are paid a living wage in this state. They know that it is just justice to make sure that healthcare workers have decent healthcare insurance. They know that it is justice to make sure that nurses aren’t so tired because they’ve had to do mandatory shifts that they can’t do their job safely. They know that’s justice as well," said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, (D) Connecticut.

“You are family, and unfortunately, 25% of our nursing family has left the profession. Because of the stress, the mandatory overtime...people have left because they’re burnt out," said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (D) Connecticut.

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FOX61 requested a formal on-camera interview with the president of Windham Hospital, who declined. They did send the following statement by Donna Handley the president of Windham Hospital:

Windham Hospital has worked hard to prevent nurses from walking out on patients, and we are disappointed by the union’s decision to strike. It is clear that many nurses, and the general public, do not understand the hospital’s offer to the AFT union — and how we are working to attract and retain nurses in the midst of a national nursing shortage.

As Windham Hospital continues to invest in nurses, we need to increase wages for newer RNs — 43% of our nurses have less than 5 years of experience. Three months ago, on June 29, the hospital presented the AFT union an offer that would boost wages for these nurses by 20% or more over a four-year contract. A majority of these nurses would receive a 30% wage increase over that period.

We value all nurses’ experience and service and compensate these professionals accordingly. At full-time, the majority of Windham Hospital nurses earn more than $100,000 a year — without including any overtime, incentives and shift differentials. The average hourly wage for Windham Hospital nurses, at $44.86, is already 5.4% greater than the Connecticut state average of $42.56.

In every proposal to the union, the hospital’s offers have removed all language related to mandatory overtime, provided health insurance premium relief that equals 2% of wages, and added a staffing committee. Time and again, the hospital has compromised to find common ground throughout this 10-month-long negotiating process.

The hospital remains willing to consider a counterproposal from the union that works within our offer’s total economic package. We have encouraged the union to make such an offer and we have repeatedly said we are ready to meet and discuss it.

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Union members will continue to strike until 7 a.m. Saturday.

For now, the parties have yet to agree on a contract. Both say they’re ready to come back to the drawing board. No date has been set for that just yet. 

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Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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