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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Labor wars at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital continue

Westerly Hospital’s new owner recruits strike-breakers, opens up Cayman Islands account
By Will Collette

The actions of the management of Lawrence and Memorial Hospital against its own workers have become so alarming that Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has intervened. 

Malloy wrote to L&M’s boss Bruce Cummings after the National Labor Relations Board lodged a formal complaint against the hospital for unfair labor practices. Click here to read his letter.

The Governor cited L&M’s practice of transferring jobs out of the unionized hospital and into a non-union, wholly-owned subsidiary. This action, a practice called “double-breasting,” violates the National Labor Relations Act and is one of the several counts in the NLRB charges against L&M.

Malloy also expressed concerns about the fate of the remaining unionized workers at the hospital after L&M has imposed several sharp cutbacks in its workforce after meeting with workers and union representatives on September 25.

CEO Cummings (pay package $702,417) says lay-offs
and cutbacks are the Governor's fault
Westerly Hospital staff are also unionized for the most part. Before the L&M takeover, Westerly went through staff cuts and the shut-down of services and clinics such as the obstetrics department. What happens to their union colleagues at L&M could surely happen to them.

CEO Cummings rejected Governor Malloy’s letter and instead blamed the Governor for L&M’s recent cutbacks, citing budget reductions Malloy imposed to balance the state budget. 

These reductions translated into cutbacks in state payments to Connecticut hospitals, Cummings claimed.

Governor Malloy’s spokesperson Andrew Doba called Cummings’ claims that the Governor cut hospital funding “absolutely incorrect. … He's talking about a predicted increase. Hospitals received $1.7 billion in state funding last year and are slated to receive the same amount in the current fiscal year. … Hospital funding from the state has gone up 245 percent over the last 10 years."

Sending money to the Cayman Islands

CFO Lou Inzana (pay package $378,935) say L&M
set up Cayman Island "captive" because regulators
forbade doing it in Connecticut
In addition to laying off workers, Lawrence & Memorial also took another controversial measure in the name of cost-cutting. It set up an off-shore self-insurance company in the Cayman Islands to sell itself malpractice insurance. 

Lawrence & Memorial Chief Financial Officer Lou Inzana confirmed this to the New London Day, but dismissed rumors that L&M had moved $20 million off-shore.

The cash amount they sent to the Caymans was only $120,000 with another $13 million invested in bonds as back-up in an unspecified US account. 

He said they set up this company, called a “captive” insurer, in the Cayman Islands because insurance regulators in Connecticut do not allow such entities in the state.

Can’t imagine why.

Unions step up their efforts

Several unions already represent workers at Lawrence & Memorial, including the American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than half of the 1,600 L&M workers. 

Unions are also mounting a vigorous campaign to organize the workers who were hired by L&M’s non-union facilities. 

In a recent success, the hospital’s security guards voted to join the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.

Among the NLRB charges against L&M managers are their union-busting efforts. One current tactic is L&M’s plan to “outsource” its cafeteria and environmental services departments that employ almost 200 union workers.

AFT recently launched a new campaign called “I Am L&M,” aimed at drawing public attention to the lay-offs at L&M and how they affect patient care. They have launched a new website to keep the public informed. Click here for the "I Am L&M" website.

Among the key facts raised by the AFT is that while L&M management was claiming that severe financial hardships were forcing them to fire staff and close departments, that same management found $69 million to buy Westerly Hospital and salted away $200 million in unrestricted accounts, including their “captive” insurance subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.

Eleven more L&M workers lost their jobs on October 6.

Lawrence & Memorial recruits scabs

I can tell you from direct personal experience that unions do not like to strike and generally see a strike as a last resort. 

This is largely due to employers’ willingness to employ what they call “replacement workers,” but what the rest of us call “strike-breakers” or “scabs.” 

There are even some employment agencies that specialize in providing scabs with medical training to cross picket lines at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.

Governor Malloy was motivated to intervene because the writing is on the wall and strike talk is in the air.

Indeed, Governor Malloy noted that Lawrence & Memorial Hospital sent a letter to New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio last July asking for permission to use the parking lot at Ocean Beach Park for strike-breakers. Not only did this provocative letter signal L&M’s plan to bring in scabs, but could even be seen as a sign that management is considering a lock-out.

On October 23, the New London Day reported that L&M's negotiations with its 540 union nurses were hampered by word that L&M is lining up strike-breaker nurses through US Allied of Jacksonville Beach, FL. US Allied is advertising for nurses to go to L&M Hospital as strike-breakers for $70 an hour, plus travel and lodging costs

L&M Health unit coordinator Harry Rodriquez, president of AFT Local 5123, told the New London Patch, "This is another example of outsourcing patient care dollars. Instead of negotiating in good faith, now the corporation is recruiting 'scabs' who work for profit alone and will follow the money when they're done. That's not what the community we serve deserves."
I've seen bosses do this: pay scabs way more than their own workers simply to make the point with their own workers that they have no rights. If Cummings put anything close to what he's willing to pay for scabs on the negotiating table, that'd be the start of labor harmony, rather than a struggle that no one really wants.

While L&M is waging war against its own workers, it is all smiley faces, at least so far, at Westerly Hospital. But unless management suffers a severe case of split personality, I believe it is only a matter of time until L&M brings the full scope of its management practices to Westerly Hospital.

That, I believe, will have a prompt and serious effect on the health and well-being of our community.