Surgical and radiologic technologists, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists at Danbury and New Milford hospitals in Connecticut are sticking to the union. A decertification election was scheduled following a petition to the National Labor Relations Board by a minority of employees within the group of approximately 260 caregivers. On Dec. 16, a majority voted to retain their union representation and resume contract negotiations with their employer.
"We are concerned about the quality of care at our hospitals," says Beth Thomsen, a respiratory therapist serving patients at Danbury Hospital since 2001. "We want to be able to have a voice in that care. That's why we formed a union in the first place." Thomsen is co-president of the negotiating committee for the Danbury and New Milford Federation of Healthcare Technical Employees.
Thomsen and her colleagues unionized last November in order to negotiate with their employer, the nonprofit Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN).
"We already knew the majority of our colleagues believed that we needed to stick together," says Matthew Hollins, an X-ray /CAT scan tech at Danbury Hospital who serves on the negotiating committee "They understand that's how we win the respect we deserve as medical professionals and put patients before profits at our hospitals."
A committee of techs and therapists from a variety of departments want to make improvements in both working conditions and patient care, but WCHN's managers and contracted attorneys have refused to address in a meaningful way critical issues such as chronic understaffing and the need to advocate for patients. A community engagement effort was launched in September to build broad public support, engage civic and elected leaders, and raise greater awareness of the issues the caregivers seek to resolve.
In a message sent to their colleagues after the vote, the negotiating committee pledged to redouble efforts to secure a first contract that is fair. "We sent a strong message to WCHN management that it's time to stop their foot-dragging and settle a fair contract," the committee said in an email. "By sticking together, we have dashed management's hopes that stalling long enough would discourage us, and we are stronger than we were before."