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Windham Hospital warns of disruptions as nurses prepare to strike

Nearly 100 nurses in a local union are striking for two days starting Thursday over pay and benefit contract negotiations with the hospital.

WINDHAM, Conn. — Nearly a hundred nurses in local 5041 at Windham Hospital in Willimantic are preparing to strike for two days starting Thursday over pay and benefits.

FOX61 spoke with union president Andrea Riley last week when they announced a strike about the union's requests for a new contract. Since then, she said nothing has changed despite additional meetings.

RELATED: Windham Hospital nurses prepare to strike over pay, benefits

"We’ve asked them over and over. Let’s look at the numbers let’s look at how far off we are, and we always got resistance," the emergency department nurse said.

The union wants to see the elimination of mandatory overtime. That is included in the hospital's offer. The union wants pay to match the cost of living after not seeing a wage increase in two years. The hospital, under the Hartford Healthcare umbrella, 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 said that the offer only makes up for the lost wages. 

Nurses also want better health insurance premiums as they say their current coverage is too expensive. The hospital has offered a “significant health insurance premium contribution relief for both units that amounts to an additional 2% of wages.” Riley argues that only impacts about 40% of the union nurses.

In a statement to FOX61, Ken Harrison said the hospital is "disappointed" an agreement has not been reached. 

Credit: FOX61
Windham Hospital warns of disruptions as nurses prepare to strike

"The hospital has made it clear that it is willing to consider options that will work within the economics of a proposal we have been discussing since the end of June. On Monday, the union asked the hospital to provide more information about the financial components of our earlier offer, which we did. Yet the union’s proposals continue to fall outside the economics of the hospital’s offer," Wednesday's statement read. "During the negotiations, the hospital’s movement on significant items was not matched by the union, leaving the parties far apart. On the eve of a strike, the union, having brought new representatives to the process, claims that the hospital should “meet in the middle.” This ignores the history of the negotiations and the hospital’s numerous concessions on the issues deemed important by the union."

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Riley said the hospital can afford to offer decreases in health premiums that impact more nurses. She said, when it comes to pay and benefits, the hospital and the union are not far apart.

"We need to recruit and we need to retain and they keep telling us that they’re having a problem and we’re telling you this is what you need to do and this is something you certainly economically can do," she said.

The hospital is bringing in other nurses from across the Hartford Healthcare system to fill the roles as nurses strike. They say some surgeries and procedures may be rescheduled to "ensure safe patient care."

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

The nurses are planning to strike outside the Willimantic hospital for two days starting at 7 a.m. Thursday. Riley hopes they can come to the table Monday and reach an agreement, saying she doesn't want the strike to last longer.

Being a rural part of Connecticut, she said the impact of this hospital is "integral" to the community.

"It’s not about the nurse, it’s really about the patients. Our nurses want to stay here," she said. "Our impact on this community is just that important, and we are such a rural area and we do have limited services."

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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