- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - About 800 nursing assistants and other workers at two Connecticut hospitals are set to vote Friday on whether to establish a union in the latest large private sector organizing drive in Connecticut.

Workers at Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital say inadequate staffing and better treatment are top concerns. Pay also is an issue; the union says it ranges between $12 and $20 an hour.

Nerval White, a certified nursing assistant, said the organizing campaign had its beginnings more than a year ago when management cut weekend and night pay differentials “and told housekeeping they can go work at McDonalds if they don’t like it.”

The lost pay differentials add up to between $6,000 and $10,000 a year, he said.

AFT Connecticut, which is organizing service, environmental, administrative and maintenance workers and patient care providers, has accused hospital managers of interference. 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 agency is investigating.

Spokeswoman Andrea Rynn said the Western Connecticut Health Network, of which the two hospitals are a part, “values and respects every employee, both those represented by a labor union as well as the many employees who have chosen not to be represented by a labor union.”

The hospitals comply with all laws and regulations “that define how we interact with unions,” she said.

The last large private sector union drive was an unsuccessful effort last year by electrical workers to organize several hundred employees at the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford. The drive to organize as many as 800 hospital workers is a “fairly large election,” said Michael Cass, officer-in-charge at the NLRB in Hartford.

Gary N. Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at the Graduate School of Management at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said organized labor, which is struggling to grow in the private sector, is finding support from nurses and other health care workers. Employees are increasingly turning to unions in response to uncertainty in the industry, he said.

Nurses, for example, worry that much of what they do will be taken over by lower-paid workers, he said. But the overall drive behind unionization in health care is that employees want some say in how they do their jobs, Chaison said.

“Many health care workers want a seat at the table where decisions are made and the way to do that is through collective bargaining,” he said.

Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said that was a major issue among health care workers reaching out to the union.

“They were feeling shut out of decisions impacting patient care,” he said.

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