Liz Morrison said the nurses wouldn't strike if they didn't believe there is an issue.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The striking nurses at Berkshire Medical Center are finding support from other labor unions.
On Friday, an array of other union members joined the picket line, linking arms with the nurses from the local chapter of the Massachusetts Nursing Association, and spread out along the sidewalks surrounding the hospital. The effort was a show of solidarity from others who have gone through the same battle in the past.
"This is what solidarity looks like. It is when not only your own union members are out here but when others recognize why you are here and come to join you," said Liz Morrison of the Central Berkshire Labor Council.
The nurses are currently locked out from returning to work by Berkshire Medical Center following a one-day strike. The hospital has temporary workers on contract and the regular nurses will return once that contract is completed Sunday morning. The nurses went on strike after more than a year of contract negotiations stalled. The nurse's main issue is staffing levels and has been picketing for what it calls "safe staffing" and wants levels written in a collective bargaining agreement.
"We need to have the resources in order to provide the care our patients deserve," nurse Marie Geary said. "We want to get back to work. IT is our hospital. It is our families. It is our friends. It is our neighbors. We need to get back to work. We should have a contract by now. We should be caring for our own patients. There shouldn't be agency nurses caring for our patients. It is our community and our patients."
Former UAW 2322 Ron Patenaude said most of the management doesn't have the experience of actually doing the job, so when the nurses say there is an issue, there is an issue. He praised the nurses for having the courage to go on strike.
"This fight is not just money or benefits, costs which management never ever seems to find issue with when it is for themselves. This fight is about patient safety and reasonable workloads. This is not a factory where a product like a car is produced," he said.
Patenaude said the people who go on strike do so for the betterment of themselves, their families, and the community, highlighting the word community.
"The families that are taking this action are not just taking this action for themselves as management would like to claim," he said.
State Rep. Paul Mark is still a dues-paying member of the international brotherhood of electrical workers and he remembers the first time he went on strike at age 21.
"When I first went on strike, I was 21 years old. When you are 21 years old and first go on strike you think, this is awesome, I don't have to go to work anymore, people are sneaking me beers, this is great.
Andrea Harrington praised the nurses courage.
And then over the course of the weeks, we were on strike, I realized what a strike is really about. We're going to show the community the same thing here in the Berkshires. What a strike is really about is that people are going without pay, they are taking time away from their families, and from the job they love. They are coming here without pay to stand together and to stand strong to fight for something they believe in," Mark said.
"If no one ever went on strike and stood together in solidarity, there would be no minimum wage, there would be no health care benefits, there would be no pensions, there would be no vacation time, there would none of those things that every single person in the country takes for granted every single day. All of this exists because of people like you and me were willing to go without for the better of everyone else."
Patenaude agrees with the power of unions and the benefits strikes have done for the American workers. He joined the rally to support the actions the nurses union has taken.
"I am here today and I believe all of us are here today because of the women and men who came before us, whose shoulders we stand on," he said.
Meanwhile, former state Senate candidate Andrea Harrington showed her support. She may not be a member of a union but remembers the late nights taking her kids to the hospital and being treated by the nurses or her grandfather's final days. She said everybody in Berkshire County has their own interactions with the nurses and should support them.
"This is about fighting for working people. This is about standing up for your patients. You are going to take this fight from Berkshire County and take it across the Commonwealth and you are going to win," Harrington said.
Harrington also praised the nurse's courage in going on strike.
"You've really pissed some people off and that's scary. But you are doing the right thing and the people in Berkshire County support you. I know it has been a hard road to get where you are today and I want to thank you for your courage and I want to thank you for your steadfastness," Harrington said.
The nurses gained support from other unions as well. Friday's rally was sponsored by the Berkshire Central Labor Council.
While much of the action has been taking place in Pittsfield, the registered nurses locked out by Berkshire Medical Center made a point of showing on Thursday that North Adams is affected, too. Nearly 100 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and their supporters lined the sidewalk along Hospital Avenue chanting to the police and security presence blocking the driveway to BMC's North County campus.
Nurses at Berkshire Medical Center went 36 years without a labor strike. But that was until Tuesday. The local chapter of the Massachusetts Nursing Association took to the picket line on Tuesday after a year of contract negotiations have seemingly hit a wall. The union and supporters gathered just outside of the property line, forming two lines and holding signs, awaiting the nurses ending their shift at 7 a.m. to walk through.
The nurses will be silent on Tuesday morning when the nurses walk out on the job and head to the picket lines. But, on Monday night, the nurses were filled with songs and speeches as it held a vigil outside of Berkshire Medical Center prior to the start of the strike.
Berkshire Medical Center brass say they've taken proper precautions to make sure patient care is uninterrupted during the strike and subsequent lock out. "We fully expect that our operations will be as they are any other day. If you are a patient and you need to be here with us or you are scheduled to be here and it is elective, it will be no different than it was any other day," said Berkshire Health Systems President David Phelps during a briefing with the media on Tuesday.
A federal judge has denied Berkshire Medical Center's request for a temporary injunction to halt the one-day strike planned by the nursing union. The hospital had filed an emergency motion requesting the federal courts to put a stop to the strike. The hospital alleged that the union did not follow the proper grievance process as outlined in the contract. On Friday, Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied that emergency request.
The hospital is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the nurses strike. Berkshire Medical Center 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 is continued to take to the picket lines on Tuesday.
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
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
We show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.
How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.