NEW BRITAIN—It’s not a step they want to take, but unionized American Red Cross workers voted Sunday to strike if necessary.
Working for two years without a contract, Kip Lockhart, an AFSCME Council 4 staff representative, said the Red Cross made unilateral changes to health and pension benefits at a time when there was no contract and without the consent of the union.
That’s one of the unfair labor complaints currently being decided by an administrative law judge. He said negotiations with Red Cross management continued since that complaint was filed in April, but the organization continues to insist it will settle the labor dispute if the workers agree to give up their collective bargaining rights.
In April, Christine Holschlag, a registered nurse and president of AFSCME Local 3145, said that during a bargaining session the workers proposed a two-year wage freeze and “massive concessions” to their health insurance, but the offer was rejected by Red Cross management.
Holschlag has said the Red Cross has proposed many concessions, however, “the main sticking point throughout the negations has been their demand for us to give up our right to collectively bargain.”
Lockhart said they’re not bargaining in good faith in Connecticut and several other states where workers are taking similar strike votes over the next week to 10 days.
It’s unclear how many of the 200 Red Cross workers voted to strike Sunday or how many voted in favor of it, but Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4 said it was strongly in favor of a strike.
The vote doesn’t necessarily mean the Red Cross will go on strike like it did for three days last summer. However, it gives negotiators the ability to strike if negotiations continue to go poorly.
Red Cross management was disappointed by the vote, but declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations.
“We are disappointed that union leaders are seeking another strike at a time when the need for blood is high and supplies are tight, and hope that AFSCME leaders will agree to continue negotiations and present a meaningful proposal to make progress towards an agreement,” Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Blood Services, said in an emailed statement Sunday.
But the safety of the blood supply is why Sarah Emmons voted in favor of a strike.
For Emmons, a registered nurse with AFSCME Local 3145, it’s not about the pay and benefits. It’s about the safety of the blood supply.
Emmons said the contract that expired two years ago required a registered nurse to be present at every blood drive. Since that contract expired it’s a requirement the Red Cross has ignored. .
“We don’t want to go on strike,” Emmons said. “And we’re not looking for anything extra. We’re just looking to keep what we have.”
Emmons said there are donors donating that shouldn’t be donating, but without a registered nurse some of those donors are slipping through.
What Emmons and her colleagues are concerned about is the safety of the blood supply and the safety of donors, Emmons said.
She said the length of the negotiations has been discouraging and a lot of employees are ready to quit, but there’s an “awful lot at stake here.”