More than 100 Rhode Island Hospital employees and their supporters took to the streets outside the state’s largest medical facility to protest a Lifespan policy that punishes them for calling in sick too often.
Employees, from doctors to janitors, feel the policy is egregious. So the two labor unions that represent workers at Rhode Island Hospital, United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5098 and Teamsters Local 251, organized an informational picket yesterday.
“Lifespan believes the updated policy is fair and reasonable, and in-line with other hospitals and health systems,” said company spokesman David Levesque. “As a healthcare organization, our primary responsibility is to care for patients in a safe and efficient manner, which requires a measure of predictability and reliability in staffing that may not impact other industries to the same extent.”Helene Macedo, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room, disagreed. “Lifespan management should know better,” she said. “This policy shift shows how out of touch they are with people who are ‘delivering health with care.’ We urge them to work with leaders from both unions and develop a policy that respects the commitment and sacrifice of all our members.”
Machado, president of UNAP Local 5098, added, “When you or a loved one are sick, the last thing you want at the bedside is a nurse or health professional who is not at their best. It’s no secret that those of us who work in hospitals are routinely exposed to any number of afflictions, and many times we do fight through it, but at some point it becomes counter-productive and unsafe to be caring for a patient when you are in need of rest or medical care.”
Levesque said he didn’t think management would revisit the policy, despite organizing by the unions. “This isn’t something that was done lightly,” he said, noting that the hospital has been communicating with the union on the revised policy for more than a year. “We have to ensure our staff is there for our patients.”
Machado disputed Levesque’s timeline. “Not a year,” she told RI Future. “A few meetings towards the end of the year and then they implemented the policy.”
Said Levesque about the sick time policy, “The reality is that disciplinary actions would not start (and then only with a warning) until between 7 and 11 days of unplanned sick time,” he said. “This policy calls for progressive discipline, in which the employee would have ample warning of his or her unsatisfactory attendance record.”
- The first time an employee takes multiple consecutive sick days it only counts as one occurrence.
- Planned absences, such as doctor’s appointments and outpatient procedures, do not count as an occurrence.
- Unplanned absences of six or more days trigger a short-term leave application which, if approved, does not count as an occurrence.
- Absence related to chronic or long-term illness is protected under FMLA.
- Short-term leaves are available
- Employees are provided a generous bank of vacation time, as well as sick time, to use when needed
Bill DeWare, a technician at Rhode Island Hospital, first brought the issue to the public’s attention with a post on RI Future.