Andrea Riley, president of the Windham Federation of Professional Nurses Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Nurses at Windham Hospital notified Hartford HealthCare on Monday that they planned to engage in a two-day strike beginning next Thursday over allegations of unfair labor practices during prolonged contract negotiations. 

The group of nurses and non-management Windham Hospital workers, both represented by AFT CT unions, have been working without a contract since December. 

“During these long months of negotiations, we have made it clear that patient safety is our top priority,” Windham Federation of Professional Nurses President Andrea Riley, said. “Not only have the network lawyer’s refused to present fair proposals, management has broken federal workplace laws in the middle of a care crisis. That’s not how health industry leaders who value safe patient care should behave.”

Donna Handley, president of Windham Hospital, said the hospital’s negotiating team has met for 42 official negotiation sessions. 

She said they have responded to every one of the issues identified by the union, including the elimination of mandatory overtime, market-based adjustments for newer nurses, expanding the salary range for more senior nurses, and “significant” health insurance premium contributions that amount to an additional 2% of wages. 

“Windham Hospital remains committed to reaching fair settlements on new contracts. On August 29, the hospital asked the union for dates when it will be available to return to negotiations. The union has not responded with any bargaining dates. We remain ready to meet,” Handley said. 

At an educational picket last month, several nurses said that chronic understaffing at the hospital has necessitated a reliance on mandatory overtime, leaving staff exhausted and unable to provide adequate care for patients.

The benefits and working condition complaints remain largely unchanged, according to the nurses. Union leaders said that the health care system has now engaged in unfair labor practices in an effort to pressure its employees into accepting an inadequate contract.

Dan Durant, a field representative for AFT Connecticut, has said the union has filed complaints against Hartford HealthCare with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the health care system has used coercive tactics to intimidate employees including ejecting union staff from hospital grounds and subjecting workers to one-on-one meetings with management designed to influence negotiations.

In July, a new law went into effect, which banned such meetings, often called “captive audience meetings” in Connecticut.

“These tactics are illegal and our next step if we don’t get a contract and these practices continue we will be going on an unfair labor practices strike and we will be sending a notice in the very near future,” Durant said.

“Obviously it’s a last resort, but we’ve been in negotiations since December of last year and the unfair labor practices are showing us that Hartford HealthCare and Windham Hospital really are bad actors here, trying to intimidate workers and employees to settle for a contract that is sub par,” he said.