Possible union strike threatens local Red Cross blood drives

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Photo - American Red Cross vehicle (Examiner file photo)
American Red Cross vehicle (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

The Red Cross is facing a strike by D.C.- and Baltimore-area blood drive workers, a move that would hamstring an organization already reeling from Superstorm Sandy.

Teamsters Local 311, which includes about 50 Red Cross drivers and supply clerks who provide blood drive support, sent the organization a notice of intent to strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 16. The strike can be avoided if the two sides reach a contract agreement before then.

"We feel like it's irresponsible," said Red Cross spokesman Anthony Tornetta. "Now is not the time to do something like this."

Sandy forced the Red Cross to cancel more than 370 blood drives across 13 states and D.C., leading to more than 12,000 units of uncollected blood, Tornetta said. The organization is pushing to make up for lost time, as additional drives in areas most impacted by Sandy may be delayed or canceled.

Unions are required by federal law to give 10 days of notice to health care providers before a strike so that the employer can prepare.

A spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters declined to comment on the potential strike, saying that the local union acts autonomously. Local 311 Secretary-Treasurer Neil Dixon could not be reached for comment.

Tornetta called the contract the Red Cross proposed "very fair" but said the union declined it. The union is meeting Sunday to see if an agreement can be reached.

If not, the blood drives' nonunion workers would have to take on more responsibility to make up for lost personnel. Those duties include packing supplies and transporting blood.

"We'll have to make the necessary adjustments," Tornetta said. "They'll definitely step in and assist along the way."

Tornetta said that the Red Cross would do its best to keep to the current blood drive schedule in the event of a strike.

"Right now we're in a struggle to replenish the blood supply," he said. "We'll do everything necessary to continue to meet the needs of the hospitals that we service. That's first and foremost our top priority."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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