A group of Democratic lawmakers joined striking American Red Cross workers in calling for the nonprofit to negotiate a fair contract with its workers Wednesday.
The workers, who have been operating without a contract for three years, went on strike on Nov. 3 despite a statement from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s urging that both parties to take a three-week “cooling off” period.
It didn’t stop six other Democrats from rallying with the workers outside the Red Cross’s Farmington headquarters.
Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D- Berlin, who is also a union service representative and Red Cross employee, said the company keeps forcing its employees to the picket lines.
“We’ve just been fighting for fairness for way too long from this company and now we’re here for the long haul. We’re going to do what it takes to make sure all of you have your rights protected here in Farmington but up in Hartford,” he said after foregoing a bull horn in favor of shouting.
Aresimowicz said he brought some of his friends from the General Assembly hoping it would get the Red Cross’s attention.
The workers’ union, AFSCME Council 4, insists the organization has not been negotiating in good faith. AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman pointed to an administrative judge’s ruling in August that the Red Cross had broken labor laws when it made unilateral changes to health and pension benefits at a time when there was no contract and without the consent of the union.
“In addition to trying to take away our right to decent healthcare, they’re violating laws. We’re expecting a long fight,” he said.
Red Cross spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said the organization is appealing those findings and has been negotiating in good faith.
“That’s an issue decided in the courts not on picket lines,” she said.
Morrissey said the timing of the workers’ strike was unfortunate, as the state is still recovering from a devastating snowstorm. The organization had to arrange for shipments of blood from out-of-state to ensure patients in the state have access to blood, she said. The Red Cross is also conducing a training initiative aimed at enhancing patient safety during the blood giving process.
But workers at the rally said patient safety was one of the reasons they chose to go on strike. Sarah Emmons, a registered nurse with AFSCME Local 3145, said the Red Cross has cut the number of nurses at its blood drives from 38 in 2000, to eight. The company has also been trying to remove all language from contracts referring to licensed nurses, she said.
“With their deep pockets and corporate playbook, the Red Cross has blocked our efforts to enact a bill that would require that they just keep one licensed nurse at every blood drive,” she said.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, D- New Britain, who is co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said the committee raised that bill but it failed to pass by one vote.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D- Hamden, said that the day after Ohio voters struck down a proposal that would have limited the collective bargaining rights of unions in that state, he believed Wednesday was going to be first day of the end “union bashing” and “scapegoating.”
“Hopefully with all of you here and all of us behind me, we will encourage and get the Red Cross to the table to finally negotiate in good faith, stop breaking the law and enable you all to finally have a contract, and the healthcare and the other benefits you deserve,” he said.
Morrissey said nationwide the Red Cross has been making progress with the unions representing its workers. In the last four months the organization has reached contracts with 14 unions, two of them being AFSCME unions, she said.
The organization felt it was making progress with workers in Connecticut as well until the union presented a final offer on Oct. 26, which Morrissey said “far exceeded” anything discussed in the past. The Red Cross rejected the offer and on Nov. 3, union workers abruptly walked off the job, she said.
However, a potential strike has been on the table since mid-August when union members voted to strike if negotiations went poorly. According to the workers at the rally, that’s been the case. Nancy Newton said the Red Cross seems to think negotiations means to dictate.
“To the public, the Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that does good things. This is true. Disaster services has stepped up admirably in the last disaster to help out our state…. However when it comes to its employees, the Red Cross, it is not true and it is not a humanitarian organization. We are treated with disrespect and disregard,” she said.