Red Cross workers in Connecticut, nationwide win contract after year-long fight

There is indeed strength in numbers. Just ask front-line American Red Cross blood collections workers in Connecticut, who are represented by Local 3145 of Council 4 AFSCME.

The nationwide coalition of 10 unions, representing more than 3,000 blood collection workers, ratified their contract in mid-September after more than a year of tough negotiations.

Local 3145 represents 160 employees at the Connecticut branch of the Red Cross including blood collection technicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, laboratory technicians, laboratory technologists, warehouse and blood transportation workers.

The new agreement increases wages 9 percent over two years, provides a ratification bonus of up to $1,350 for full-time employees and $500 for part-timers and protects quality, affordable health care.

“This is not just a major victory for our members who do life-saving work,” Local 3145 President Joseph Tine IV, a blood collection technician, said. “It’s a victory for the donors who give blood and the patients who need a safe blood supply.”

Coalition members defeated Red Cross' attempt to move workers to high deductible health care plans.

Instead of accepting drastic cuts, the unions held firm and got the organization to agree to move employees to the United Steelworkers health and welfare plan, which has comparable levels of coverage, cost and co-payments.

AFSCME Local 3145 President Joseph Tine at Council 4 headquarters, New Britian, Aug. 31, 2022 │Photo by Larry Dorman

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, front-line Red Cross workers have put themselves in harm’s way to collect and maintain the nation’s blood supply.

At times, they were not provided with the proper personal protective equipment, and when they were exposed to COVID-19 on the job, some were forced to stay home without pay.

Local 3145 Executive Vice President Wendy Pilkington, a blood collection technician and member of the national union bargaining team, said that she and her fellow Red Cross workers "work long hours with minimal staff daily."

"During the pandemic, not only did we put our health at risk to maintain a sufficient blood supply, but our families, too," Pilkington said. "We received little to no recognition or additional compensation from our employer. Our members would not accept the threat of reducing health care benefits and not getting appropriate wage increases in future. Our coalition stuck together and demanded better from the Red Cross — and got it."

The new contract, which coalition members around the country approved during the first two weeks of September, addresses some of their long-standing workplace safety issues, including severe understaffing and a lack of access to personal protective equipment.

In an amazing show of solidarity, Local 3145 members voted unanimously to support the settlement on Aug. 31.

The Coalition of American Red Cross Unions includes AFSCME, AFT, CWA, IBEW, IUOE, OPEIU, SEIU, UAW, UFCW and the Steelworkers (USW).

Front, left to right: Local 3145 Secretary Jackie O’Connor and Executive Vice President Wendy Pilkington, Council 4 Staff Rep Emily Demicco. Back, left to right: Local 3145 member Liz Brackert, Council 4 Staff Rep Scott Soares, Local President Joseph Tine, Executive Board member Clint Howson and Local members Bettina Reagan and Donna Robida at Council 4 headquarters, Aug. 31, 2022 │Photo by Larry Dorman

Throughout the negotiations, union coalition members rallied together to demand respect from their employer.

They organized in their workplaces and communities, launching a campaign that sent more than 10,000 letters from people across the country to Red Cross executives demanding a fair contract.

Red Cross union workers held rallies and press conferences in several cities including a rally at Council 4 headquarters in New Britain in May.

“You not only deserve our thanks, but you deserve to be compensated fairly,” Connecticut AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Shellye Davis told Local 3145 members at the event. “I’m sick and tired of hearing executives thank essential workers but then refuse to pay them a living wage or provide affordable insurance.”

Tine and Pilkington praised the efforts of Council 4 Staff Representatives Scott Soares and Emily Demicco, adding that Council 4 and AFSCME International provided vital resources and support to the entire coalition during the long campaign for a fair agreement.

The Red Cross provides approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. The workers who protect the safety and integrity of that supply now have a collective bargaining agreement that respects their commitment to blood donors and recipients.

This story includes coverage of the settlement from the AFSCME International blog. Thanks to Omar Tewfik for his story.