PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The registered nurses at BMC have filed a second complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against hospital administrators.
The nurses are accusing Berkshire Medical Center leadership, particularly Vice President of Human Resources Arthur Milano, of denying them information they deem is needed to negotiate health insurance. The nurses asked for detailed financials surrounding the hospital's health insurance offer during negotiations.
Hospital officials, however, say the nurses are asking for information that has no bearing on the proposal. Milano says they've provided the information showing how the rates are set, including actual figures for more than a year. But nurses are asking for information on other employees including dates of birth, zip codes, and genders of employees and their dependents.
"In July, we gave them the info on the overall health costs," Milano said on Wednesday, the day the complaint was filed. "We see this as a diversionary tactic to take the eye off the ball."
The union says without the detailed data, it can't craft new proposals for health insurance.
"It is only a general summary and does not include the data we have been requesting. ... Health insurance is obviously a mandatory subject of bargaining. Management not only has refused to bargain over it, repeating for all the months of these negotiations its refusal to consider any plan design, cost sharing, rates or co-payments other than that which management first demanded," reads a letter from Dana Simon, director of strategic campaigns for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, to BMC's attorney in the negotiations Diane Patrick.
The nurses have routinely been focused on what it calls "safe staffing" during the negotiations while health insurance had barely been mentioned publicly before. But the hospital's proposal does shift the percentage of the premiums employees pay by 10 percent for individual plans — bringing the hospital's share down to 80 percent and the employees up to 20 percent from what is currently a 90/10 split for individual plans.
"We're decreasing the BHS contribution from 90 percent to 80 percent, which has already happened to all of our other employees," Milano said.
The hospital is self-insured with no deductibles in the plan offered. The hospital says the nurses have benefited from paying a lesser percentage than other employees in the hospital on individual plans.
Milano said employees often cite the health plan as one of the top reasons to work there.
"In 27 years, I have never heard a complaint about the health plans," he said.
The nurses, however, say they are actually paying more than managers on family plans. The union says management is paying between 40 to 70 percent less than the unionized nurses.
Milano says with individual plans every employee, except the nurses at this point, pay 80 percent of the premium but for family plans, the splits are 75 percent for non-exempt employees and 85 percent for exempt employees. That's because the non-exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay like the nurses and others.
The union is continuing its attempt to push the hospital away from its final offer. The union says the hospital has not only refused to provide the detailed data it wants, but refuses to discuss changing the plan design, cost sharing, the rates, or co-payments.
"As nurses, we provide much of the health care at our hospital. We are simply looking to negotiate affordable, quality health insurance to keep ourselves and our families healthy," said Amber VanBramer, a nurse who sits on MNA BMC Bargaining Committee.
"It is particularly frustrating as a single parent that BMC has refused to negotiate over this key issue. The hospital already charges nurses like myself in family plans a lot more than managers. Nurses are at high risk for injuries and assault. We are working while exhausted, pushed by management beyond our ability to provide safe patient care."
The nurses want information on the current medical and prescription drug plans; monthly paid claims separated by medical and prescription drug claims; monthly enrollment for three years; all changes made; the most recent data on administration, network, case management, clinical program, stop loss, and other fees association with the prescription plan; the working rates for plans, and a census of employees eligible and enrolled in the various plans including date of birth, gender, zip code, status, and medical tier.
The nurses say without that information, they can't be sure the rates being set are fair.
"Since it is your proposal that employees pay a percentage of whatever the total working rate is, we are entitled to all the (de-identified) data that goes into the creation of what you claim the appropriate working rate to be. This is a self-insured plan. The employer is the insurer. We are not required to and will not accede to an employer demand that we agree to pay a given percentage of the total rate, while the employer effectively could be setting the rate just about anywhere its wants by hiding the data that goes into the rate calculations," Simon wrote.
"We have said many times that we are open to many possible solutions to the health insurance issues, but we are entitled to bargain on an even playing field with access to the data the employer has."
The hospital says the union is not entitled to those specific data points.
"What they've seen is how much it costs us and how our working rates were developed," Milano said.
The two sides have been divided throughout about a year of negotiating a new contract. The nurses are inching closer to a strike after voting to authorize the bargaining to call one if deemed needed and providing notification to end the contract currently in place, which prohibits a strike.
The complaint made on Wednesday is the second one the MNA filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Previously, the union claimed the hospital was interfering with the strike vote.
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