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Tentative Agreement Reached, But Bad Blood Remains

by Hugh McQuaid | Nov 14, 2011 12:00pm
(0) | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Labor, Nonprofits

Hugh McQuaid file photo

House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey rallies with striking Red Cross workers last week

The American Red Cross reached a tentative agreement with AFSCME Local 3145 Council 4, the union representing its 200 Connecticut blood collection workers early Sunday morning, ending a 10-day strike, Red Cross spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said.

If ratified by union members, the agreement will become the first contract between the nonprofit and its blood collection employees in the state since 2009 when the previous contract expired.

The agreement represents a three-year contract with a 2 percent raise effective the day it is ratified. It would also provide a 2.5 percent raise in each of the first two years of the contract and a 1 percent raise in the final year. Workers would also receive a 1 percent step increase in the first year.

“The agreement is equitable and balanced in achieving the needs of both the Red Cross and AFSCME members, and is sensitive to the financial pressures that health care providers and our employees are experiencing in today’s economic environment,” Morrissey said in a press release.

AFSCME negotiators are unanimously recommending their members ratify the agreement, according to the Red Cross statement. AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman said union leadership will be scheduling a membership vote soon. The National Board of Labor Relations will also have to approve the deal.

Dorman described the agreement as a “platform to move forward” but wasn’t happy with all aspects of it. The organization succeeded in removing language from the contracts referring to licensed nurses, raising concerns about donor safety at blood drives, he said. With the decision of whether to ratify the agreement now in the hands of the members, Dorman said the union will continue to raise awareness of safety concerns.

“This was a long and difficult struggle and reaching a tentative agreement is a significant part of the struggle but it’s not the only part,” he said. “We’re going to continue speaking out. We’re going to continue raising the volume about how this company does business.”

Dorman said the union has joined a coalition of around a dozen other labor groups with concerns about how the Red Cross operates. It will also be advocating legislation requiring the organization to keep nurses on hand during blood drives, he said.

If adopted the agreement will also put to rest an outstanding unfair labor practice complaint, which the union filed with the labor board.

In August an administrative judge found that the Red Cross had broken labor laws when it made unilateral changes to health and pension benefits at a time when there was no contract and without the consent of the union.

The Red Cross appealed the decision, but if workers ratify the agreement the nonprofit has agreed to withdraw the appeal. The agreement would give each union member $600 as a settlement and a $400 signing bonus. In exchange the union has agreed to withdraw the complaint.

The blood collection workers went on strike on Nov. 3, despite a statement from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s urging that both parties to take a three-week “cooling off” period.

Morrissey said the timing of the strike was problematic since the state was in the midst of a recovery effort from the freak October snowstorm that left close to a million residents without power. The organization had to make arrangements for out-of-state blood shipments to ensure patients had access to blood, she said.

The Red Cross was also in the process of conducting a nationwide training program, she said. The organization and AFSCME negotiated a schedule to return employees to work and provide the training to the workers who were on strike, Morrissey said. Lawmakers rallied with striking Red Cross workers last week outside the nonprofit’s Farmington headquarters.

Sixty workers were expected to return to work on Monday and an additional 40 are expected on Saturday, she said. As many as 31 employees will be placed on leaves of absence until late December or January due to limited training capacity, she said.

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