PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Medical Center is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt a planned one-day strike.
The hospital filed for an injunction in federal court, claiming the Massachusetts Nursing Association had not followed contractual obligations prior to calling a strike. The union, however, asserts that the strike is legal and still plans to take to the picket lines on Tuesday.
In the union's filing for a strike, it listed it as an "unfair labor practice" strike. But, each of the complaints made by the union regarding unfair labor practices occurred while under contract and should have been resolved through an arbitration process, according to John Rogers, vice president and general counsel for the hospital.
"They haven't gone through the necessary steps," Rogers said.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, there are two types of strikes: economic or unfair labor practice.
With an economic strike, employees are striking over wages, benefits, or working conditions. They are legally allowed to strike on that basis and cannot be fired.
But, the employer does have the ability to hire replacement workers and the workers aren't entitled to return to work right away. In this case, the nurses have repeatedly said they are striking over staffing, which does fall into that category but isn't the type of strike the union filed.
Under an economic strike, the hospital could lock out the striking nurses while there are replacement workers in place. The hospital's administration had planned to hire replacements for an entire week, under the impression that staffing issues were the cause of the strike and why it would fall under the economic category.
The one-day strike by the union would be followed by a four-day lockout by the hospital.
"An economic strike is more manageable for the health system," Rogers said.
However, the local MNA chapter has filed for an "unfair labor practice" strike. That, according to the NLRB, is for other actions committed by the employer and with that, strikers are entitled to return to their jobs right after the strike, even if there are replacement workers.
Prior to issuing the 10-day notice of a strike, the nurses have filed three unfair practice complaints against the hospital — one over the release of health insurance information, one regarding threats allegedly made by the administration regarding the strike authorization vote, and one claiming the hospital unilaterally changed absenteeism policy.
"They all occurred while the old contract was in effect," Rogers said.
Under that contract, the nurses are supposed to take those issues to an arbitration process, which did not happen.
"Each of the above-listed disputes is arbitrable under the Agreement because the matters complained of arguably violate provisions of the Agreement, including the Earned Time, the Medical Insurance Clause, the Recognition Clause, the Non-Discrimination Clause, the Discipline Clause, the Leave of Absences Clause, and the Management Rights Clause," reads the request for an injunction.
"Because the disputes motivating the Defendant's imminent one-day strike occurred while the Agreement was still in effect, they are subject to grievance and arbitration procedures set forth therein, and the no-strike obligation continues to bind the MNA with respect to these disputes."
On Wednesday, the union said it filed yet another unfair labor practice complaint saying the management has consistently refused to bargain or come to agreements in relation to staffing. That came shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday after yet another failed attempt at bargaining.
"For more than a year, Berkshire Medical Center has refused to negotiate in good faith over workload, safe patient care and quality, affordable health insurance," said Alex Neary, co-chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. "On Wednesday, the hospital once again refused to compromise and agree to concrete improvements to patient care."
Union spokesman Joe Markman asserts that the strike is legal and that the nurses are willing to avert a strike by continuing to negotiate. The union doesn't feel the hospital is making any attempt to reach a compromise.
The courts will now have to decide which side is right. If the court does put forth a temporary injunction to halt the strike, then it will be litigated, which can take a while. Should the nurses strike anyway, then they would be in contempt of court.
"We are disappointed that the MNA has pushed for a strike rather than give that offer due consideration," reads a joint statement from President and CEO David Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly.
"However, in the event that the strike does take place, we are well prepared to continue the full range of services always available at Berkshire Medical Center through capable and dedicated care teams. The hospital will remain open and fully accessible to our patients and our community."
Markman said as of Wednesday night, the union has not been served and the plans are to continue with the strike.
On Monday, Oct. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. the nurses are planning on a vigil outside of Berkshire Medical Center on North Street. The following morning, at 7 a.m. the nurses plan to take to the picket lines. The one-day strike is expected to end the following morning at 7 a.m.
"We are ready to return to the hospital to care for our patients on Wednesday morning," said Jody Stefanik, of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee.
"Keeping us from our patients for an extra four days is the hospital's sole decision. Instead of valuing its own nurses, BMC is valuing a contract with replacement nurses."
The Massachusetts Nurses Association delivered a 10-day notice to hospital management on Friday notifying it of the local bargaining unit's intent to hold a one-day unfair labor practice strike beginning at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3, and running until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
The hospital has fired back at the MNA with its own complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Berkshire Health Systems has filed a complaint alleging that the nursing union is not bargaining in good faith, and even "surface bargaining" - a term used to describe bargaining without trying to actually reach a settlement.
After hitting a stalemate in negotiations, the nursing union has released 437 "unsafe staffing forms," which document specific instances when nurses felt they needed more help. The local chapter of the Massachusetts Nursing Association, representing unioned nurses at Berkshire Medical Center, have been negotiations with Berkshire Health Systems on a new contract. Particularly, the nurses say they hope to a contractual agreement to bolster staffing. But, months ago the hospital had already put
BMC nurses are now making a pitch to get the hospital's Board of Trustees on their side. The Massachusetts Nurses Association has been in challenging contract negotiations with the hospital. After what call a fairly unproductive negotiating session on Tuesday, the nurses are attempting to meet with members of the Board of Trustees.
The nurses at BMC have filed a second complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against hospital administrators. The nurses are accusing Berkshire Medical Center leaderships, particularly Vice President of Human Resources Arthur Milano, of denying them information they deem is needed to negotiation health insurance. The nurses asked detailed financials surrounding the hospital's health insurance offer during negotiations.
Another negotiation session concluded Monday and nurses say little progress has been made toward a resolution. Mark Brodeur sits on the bargaining committee and on Monday night he said hospital officials rejected the change put forth by the nurses to leave charge nurses unassigned. The nurses have been trying to push for what they call "safe staffing" in the negotiations and contractually binding the hospital to provide what they see is adequate staff.
The nurses at Berkshire Medical Center have taken the second step toward a strike. The Massachusetts Nursing Association filed a notification to end the existing agreement. The contract currently in place prohibits a strike and while the contract had an expiration date of September 2016, the duration clauses continued that unless a 30-day notice from either side was made or a new contract was signed, the existing one remained in place.
In the middle of a strike authorization vote and the union filing charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Nursing Association and Berkshire Medical Center return to the bargaining table Thursday in hopes to come to an agreement on a new contract.
Berkshire Medical Center has presented what it says will be its "best and final offer" to settle a contract with the nursing union. A letter sent out by President David Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly was released on Wednesday outlining the hospital's offer. The Massachusetts Nurses Association and BMC have been at an impasse as the two sides try to negotiate a new three-year contract. The current one expired in September.
Nurses and supporters paced back and forth along North Street and Wahconah, holding signs, chanting "if we're out here, something is wrong in there." On the otherside of those walls, the administration is reviewing data showing Berkshire Medical Center ranking in the top when it comes to patient safety and preparing a forum to celebrate those numbers with employees. Outside, the nurses chant that the staffing levels are unsafe. Inside, a staffing office is reviewing the personnel on hand to m
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