Striking Nurses Get 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.
"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.
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