PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Another negotiation session between Berkshire Medical Center and its registered nurses concluded Monday and the nurses say little progress has been made toward a resolution.
Mark Brodeur, who sits on the bargaining committee for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said hospital officials rejected a change to leave charge nurses unassigned. The nurses have been pushing for what they call "safe staffing" in the negotiations and contractually binding the hospital to provide what they see is adequate staff.
The nurses started asking for specific nurse-to-patient ratios and through negotiations have more recently called for the plan to utilize charge nurses.
"They came back with 'no' across the board," Brodeur said.
Brodeur said for more the two sides met for close to seven hours, still with a federal mediator, and attempted to come to a consensus on non-staffing related issues. But, he said the hospital held close to its "best and final offer" and the nurses don't see that as including enough security to ensure there is enough staff.
"We cannot agree to the demand by the MNA that we accept its fixed staffing ratios or similar language that has the effect of controlling staffing decisions or its proposal that nurses cannot be temporarily reassigned from less busy units of the hospital to more busy ones to perform basic nursing services in relief of their colleagues," according to the statement on the website.
Instead, BMC has put forth the idea of creating a staffing committee that would consist of union officials, nurses, and leadership. The group would discuss issues and make recommendations for adjustments as needed.
Brodeur, however, says there is already a staffing committee that hasn't been able to address needs. He said the local MNA chapter brought in BMC nurses to testify for more than an hour on Monday about how the current system is inadequate.
Brodeur said the two sides did discuss other points of disagreement, hoping to come to terms with other aspects of the contract. But, the nurses are planning to file a second unfair labor practices complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday. Previously, the MNA filed a complaint against hospital administrators regarding the strike authorization vote of two weeks ago and now claims BMC is not providing sufficient paperwork relating to the health insurance proposals under negotiation.
The session broke for the evening around 5:30, Brodeur said, and further dates have not yet been set. The nurses say the two sides exchanged possible dates and will schedule the next session.
"We have some tentative dates but nothing has been agreed upon. We do plan to continue negotiating," Brodeur said.
The two sides have been negotiating for nearly a year now on a new contract. The nurses have taken two steps toward a strike — one to authorize the bargaining committee to call one if deemed needed and another to give a 30-day notice of ending a clause in the current contract prohibiting one.
The issue of staffing has risen to the top in multiple hospitals across the state and two have already gone on strike — which leads hospital officials to believe that the push for staffing levels isn't so much a local issue but rather tied in with the union's statewide agenda. In 2018, a question regarding the issue is expected to be on the state election ballot.
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