Nurses of Windham Hospital hit picket line for 48 hour strike

Windham Hospital nurses go on strike
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 11:26 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2022 at 11:52 AM EDT
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WILLIMANTIC, CT (WFSB) - About 100 nurses at Windham Hospital in Willimantic embarked on a two-day strike that began Thursday morning.

The nurses union promised it would picket Thursday at 7 a.m.

About 100 nurses said they’re overworked and want better wages.

There has been some movement, but the union representing the nurses said it’s not enough.

This is a two-day strike, and these nurses are hoping they can make changes.

Covered in rain gear and tents, nurses at Windham Hospital are letting people know they are not happy.

“No one wants to go on strike,” said Andrea Riley, Emergency Department Nurse.

Riley feels nurses had to strike to get Windham Hospital to improve working conditions and pay.

“We want to settle, we want a contract that both sides can say yes we feel good about it, bring it to the members and move on,” said Riley.

Nurses said they’re exhausted, forced to work double shifts.

The hospital’s president said they’ve worked hard to prevent nurses from walking out on patients and:

The hospital’s latest offer includes eliminating mandatory overtime, wage increases and increasing what the company contributes to health care premiums.

Another union, which represents about 300 hospital workers, also plans to vote Thursday on whether they should strike.

“I am getting from my members, we are headed there, we are headed there, they are tired, they are exhausted not only from the work but fighting,” said Heather Howlett with United Employees of Windham Hospital.

Windham Hospital, which is owned by Hartford HealthCare, has brought in nurses from other hospitals.

Day two of the strike will be Friday, with a rally.

Coverage from Thursday morning follows:

It said negotiations began nearly a year ago.

The union said the hospital has not been able to meet its demands, or even meet it halfway in its demands.

“We tried time and time again,” said Pam Purcell, a nurse. “We went back to meetings. We really did not want to get to this point.”

The hospital said the union’s proposals have continued to fall outside the economics of the hospital’s offer.

“In June, the hospital had issued a proposal and had stated that this is it, there’s no other negotiation and that should we not ratify this they would take any retroactive monies owed to the nurses off the table,” said Andrea Riley, president, Windham Federation of Nurses Local 5041.

Riley said Hartford Healthcare’s lack of movement in negotiations forced nurses into the strike.

Wednesday night, the picket signs were drawn up and readied for Thursday morning.

Nurses said their biggest concern has been forced mandatory, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also said they haven’t had a wage increase in two years.

“Mandatory overtime is when the hospital comes to a nurse at the end of her shift and mandating her to stay longer to work. A total of 16 hours. It leads to burn out, increased fatigue, medical error which results in patient death, which is of course the last thing a nurse would ever want to do,” Riley said.

“We were heroes and now we’re being treated like zeroes,” said Karla Beckert, a nurse.

Hartford HealthCare said it has offered the elimination of mandatory overtime, wage increases and expanded salary ranges, as well as health insurance premium contributions.

Donna Handley, president of Windham Hospital, issued a statement on Thursday morning.

Handley said the hospital also offered health insurance premium contribution relief that amounted to an addition 2 percent of wages.

The nurses union said the offer by Hartford HealthCare fell well short of what was needed.

“We now pay 20 to 30 percent higher premiums than any non-union employee in Hartford Healthcare,” Beckert said.

“Our patients ratios are double what they should be,” Purcell said. “We’re working short staffed every day.”

The union says the last time Hartford HealthCare came to the negotiating table was on Monday. The nurses on the picket line told Channel 3 that they feel like the biggest issue at play has been a lack of respect.

The hospital assured patients that it will have staffing in place Thursday morning when the strike was set to begin and that there would be no disruptions in patient care.

VIDEO: Windham Hospital nurse strike
Nurses at Windham Hospital are on strike.
Nurses at Windham Hospital in Willimantic prepared for a two-day strike that was set to begin on Thursday.
Nurses at Windham Hospital in Willimantic plan to strike on Thursday morning.
The South End Neighborhood Association held a community meeting this evening.