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Windham Hospital nurses prepare to strike over pay, benefits

Nurses at the Willimantic hospital want mandatory overtime eliminated, higher wages, and better insurance. The hospital says its proposals address this.

WINDHAM, Conn. — Nurses at Windham Hospital in Willimantic are preparing to strike if their union and the hospital do not come to an agreement on a new contract.

Andrea Riley is the president of  Windham Federation of Professional Nurses, Local 5041, representing about a hundred nurses at the hospital. The emergency department nurse says the hospital has barely moved at the negotiating table.

They are calling for no more mandatory overtime saying it’s unhealthy for the nurses and patients. Workers at the hospital went on strike this summer over it. 

RELATED: Windham Hospital union workers demand pay raises, elimination of mandatory overtime

“That would be like going to a nurse at 11 p.m. and stating, “By the way, you now need to stay until seven in the morning” after they just completed an eight-hour shift,” Riley said.

Hospital President Donna Handley said their current offer does remove mandatory overtime.

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Riley said there are still areas they have not come to an agreement on. She said wages have not increased for them in two years and need pay to match the cost of living. The hospital has offered market-based adjustments and larger wage increases for newer nurses and technical and support staff as well as expanded salary wages for those at the top of the range. The union president says that the offer only makes up for the lost wages.

“They introduced what’s called a market adjustment and that’s a variable rate adjustment where you have no idea where they get these numbers, but the numbers are not commensurate to where we are in cost of living,” she said. “What they consider to be large-scale wage increases is actually just catching up for the three years that the nurses have received nothing.”

RELATED: Connecticut healthcare employees react to denial to close Windham Hospital's maternity ward

The workers also want better health insurance. They say the premiums and costs with their current coverage are too high. In response, the hospital has offered a “significant health insurance premium contribution relief for both units that amounts to an additional 2% of wages.”

Riley said the decrease in premium means nothing if it doesn’t impact all the nurses. She said the proposal only helps about 40 of the union nurses as only one group, based on hours worked and salary, would benefit.

“You can offer a reduction and a premium and a percentage and a salary band but if I have no nurses in that band, then there’s no reduction at all,” she said.

Credit: FOX61
Windham Hospital nurses prepare to strike over pay, benefits

Riley said she hopes they can come to a mutual agreement and prevent a strike. Nurses are planning to strike for two days outside the hospital starting next Thursday. Handley said in a statement they asked the union for dates to negotiate in late August but got no response. They’ve already met more than 40 times. Riley says the federal mediator did respond with dates. 

“We remain ready to meet,” Handley said. “We must take all appropriate steps to ensure that our patients will continue to have access to the care they need.”

Riley claims the hospital has been going to individual union members with information on what they would get in the agreement instead of doing it during an official negotiation. FOX61 reached out to the hospital for comment on this and has not heard back.

Tony Black is a multi-media journalist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tblack@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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