Red Cross Blood Collection Workers Set To Strike Thursday

http://www.courant.com/business/hc-red-cross-blood-strike-20111028,0,4632424.story

By DAN HAAR, dhaar@courant.com
The Hartford Courant
October 28, 2011

Two hundred blood collection workers at the Connecticut Blood Services region of the American Red Cross will go on strike Thursday after more than two years without a contract, the union representing the workers said Friday.

The strike by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3145 will be open-ended, in contrast to a three-day action in June 2010, the union said. It follows a breakdown in negotiations in which the Red Cross rejected the union’s latest demands last weekend.

Blood supplies are low in the Northeast region, the Red Cross said, but officials at the nonprofit agency said they have assured hospitals that the strike will not disrupt deliveries.

The action at the main Connecticut office in Farmington and at an office in Norwalk will, however, interrupt two weeks of training on new, automated procedures for blood collection workers, scheduled to start Monday. The Red Cross said the training has been long planned and will be difficult to reschedule because it’s part of a nationwide effort.

The union’s last contract expired in April 2009, and talks have stalled amid acrimony not over pay, but rather health benefits, both sides said. The union also cited bargaining rights, issues such as scheduling and a dispute over how many licensed nurses are needed at blood drives.

“The Red Cross has left us no choice but to go on strike,” said Kip Lockhart, chief negotiator for the union. “We have worked as hard as we can to reach a just and fair agreement at the table.”

The AFSCME Local 3145 offer made last Sunday “far exceeded anything, on a host of issues, that the Red Cross has agreed to in past negotiations,” said Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. “That offer has moved us further apart.”

Morrissey said the Red Cross has reached 14 labor agreements across the country since July, including two AFSCME pacts this month.

“If a work stoppage occurs, the Red Cross has a contingency plan in place to ensure that the blood needs of patients can be met,” Morrissey said. “It is disappointing that union leaders would choose to strike and disrupt blood collections at a time when blood supplies in Connecticut and nationally are low following the severe weather earlier this fall.”

The Red Cross will evaluate whether to cancel local blood drives if the strike goes forward, Morrissey said. No new negotiations were scheduled as of late Friday but both sides said they were willing to resume talks before the strike.

“We need to do this because we need to stand for what’s right for ourselves and for the donors we serve,” said Larry Dorman, AFSCME Council 4 spokesman.

In recent years, the union said, the Red Cross has reduced the number of licensed nurses in the unit — RNs and LPNs — from 30 to about eight, Dorman said, citing what he said is a significant issue in the breakdown. “Everybody will tell you how critically important it is to have licesnsed nurses at a blood drive. It’s just common sense. … Unfortunately, this employer has retreated from that standard.”

In response, Morrissey said every drive aimed at collecting more than 25 units has a trained supervisor who often is a nurse. Neither the federal government, nor the Red Cross, nor the blood-collection industry association requires a nurse present at drives, she said. “We know of no data or research study that suggests requiring a nurse at every drive,” she said.

On Aug. 28, a judge at the National Labor Relations Board found that the Red Cross engaged in unfair labor practices by changing the terms of the workers’ health insurance. The Red Cross has appealed, Morrissey said.

Copyright © 2011, The Hartford Courant

Comments are closed.