Nurses and hospital workers send strike notice to St. Vincent’s in Westport
The health care industry is not immune to pandemic staffing shortages - workers at a Hartford Healthcare facility in Westport are preparing a labor strike to protest mandatory overtime.
Nurses at St. Vincent's Behavioral Health in Westport say they've been forced to work extended and double shifts and that those who didn't comply were punished and faced with termination.
"No employee should ever be put in the position of having to choose between leaving their child unattended at home and being terminated from their job, and yet that's what they're being threatened with," said Dave Hannon, president of CHCA 1199.
Nurses and service and maintenance staff gave their 10-day notice about the strike Tuesday morning.
They say mandatory overtime has been too common at the Westport facility for years and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem with staffing issues and unexpected quarantines.
"I've had to worry every morning, as a night shift employee, whether or not I'm going to get out on time. Whether I'm going to get home on time to relieve my babysitter," said Brandon Debiase.
Hartford Healthcare officials say they've already offered a significant wage increase, but workers say they need to be able to balance their work and home lives.
"I know I have a duty. I'm here because I care, and sometimes that means you're not going to be able to go home, that's true. But that should absolutely be at a minimum. The vast majority of the time, I ought to know my schedule," said registered nurse Palmer LaValle.
Employees also say consistent extended shifts cause burnout and exhaustion - which is dangerous in the medical field.
Hartford Healthcare officials are working to avoid a strike. They said in a statement in part, "Our latest offer includes a significant increase in wages for both the Nurses and Service and Maintenance Worker bargaining units, and the Hospital has already agreed to several operational changes proposed by the Union."
Employees say it's not about pay, it's about reclaiming that work-life balance.
Union leaders are set to meet with administrators from the facility Wednesday. They say if they can't come to an agreement, the strike begins Dec. 17 at 6 a.m.
Hartford Healthcare says the facility and all its services will remain open.