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Nurses on strike at Windham hospital after nine months at the bargaining table

With ponchos, rain boots and umbrellas in hand, nurses at Windham Hospital hit the streets Thursday morning to call on their employer to end “unfair labor practices.”

“The nurses are at a point where they sit there and [say], ‘This is enough,’” said Andrea Riley, the president of the nurses union AFT Local 5041 and a nurse in the emergency department.

About 100 nurses at the hospital plan to walk out between Thursday morning and Saturday.

Riley said the union has been at the bargaining table since December 2021, when their contract ended. And the union has had three primary requests: Fix stagnant wages, address unaffordable health insurance and end mandatory overtime.

“That’s like basically the hospital coming up to the nurse at the end of her shift and saying, by the way, I’m mandating you to stay a total of 16 hours,” Riley said. “If you’ve worked any of those, it’s exhausting.”

Riley said the hospital has agreed to end mandatory overtime, but both parties have not been able to agree on wages and health care.

Riley said the union is fighting for different wage increases depending on experience, but overall wages need to match the cost of living. And that has not been the case.

While wages have remained stagnant, Riley said health care premiums have only increased.

“So when you’re having a 0% wage increase over the past two to three years, but you're watching your insurance go [up], you’re losing wages,” Riley said.

The hospital continues to operate normally, and patients will continue to receive care, Donna Handley, president of Windham Hospital said via an email statement to Connecticut Public Radio.

“The hospital has worked hard to prevent nurses from walking out on patients. We are disappointed by the union’s decision,” the statement said.

According to the statement, the hospital has engaged in 46 sessions with the union. It has made an offer that included the elimination of mandatory overtime, wage increases and health insurance premium contributions.

But the offer still falls short, Riley said.

“We’re only, I think, more than a $2 million difference. That is not a big difference at all,” she said. “We watched nurses over the past three years where we’ve been told that we’re heroes, we need you, we do listen to you [being] disrespected at the bargaining table. This is what we need to sustain.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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