By John Nickerson, The Advocate, May 23, 2009
NORWALK -- A dozen unionized Red Cross blood collection workers picketed in front of the American Red Cross chapter office on Westport Avenue on Saturday.
As the others held up signs bearing phrases such as, "Respect the workers," and, "Be fair," AFSCME Local 3145 Vice President Nancy Newton explained that the demonstrators were not trying to steer people away from the weekly blood drive at the office at 596 Westport Ave.
She said the "rolling informational picket" was there to inform the public that the 225 people in her statewide local have worked without a contract since March 31.
Adoption of a new three-year contract has not materialized because the Red Cross is trying to eliminate union bargaining for employee health and disability benefits, shorten rest periods for workers between blood drive shifts, and get rid of the requirement that registered nurses supervise blood drives, Newton said.
A statement from Red Cross Corporate Affairs specialist Elaine St. Peter, who was in the office about 40 feet from the demonstrators, said the Red Cross continues to meet with the union and negotiate in good faith.
The Red Cross has had to take difficult steps to control costs by issuing a salary freeze to all nonunion employees and making changes to its retirement programs for all staff, the statement said.
"These Red Cross contract proposals are consistent with the pay and benefits package provided to our nonunion staffers," it said.
St. Peter said she could not comment further.
Newton, a Rocky Hill resident who is on the union negotiating team, said dropping the requirement that registered nurses supervise blood drives was a safety issue that should not be undertaken.
Picketer Mary Krusiewicz, a registered nurse from West Hartford, said: "Putting unlicensed personnel that will be making medical decisions in charge? That is a safety risk."
She said workers also need the 11-hour break between blood drives, which was guaranteed in their last contract. Newton said the Red Cross wanted workers to have a nine-hour break.
The union's public affairs coordinator, Larry Dorman, said Saturday's demonstration was the second of five planned for the state.
He said the Red Cross national strategy in contract negotiations is driving down the economic and safety standards of Red Cross workers.
The Red Cross statement said its supply of blood has never been safer, and its current contract proposal provides union members with the same insurance as the nonbargaining employees.
Dorman said some state employees will join national members in Washington, D.C., next Friday for a large rally in front of national Red Cross headquarters.
Union and Red Cross negotiators are to meet June 1 in hopes of resolving their differences.
-- Staff Writer John Nickerson can be reached at email@example.com or 964-2320.