PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Massachusetts Nursing Association has withdrawn one of the multiple unfair labor practice charges it filed against Berkshire Medical Center.
In July, the registered nurses' union filed a charge against a new absentee policy the hospital's administration had established. The claim was that there was a modification to the contract because the new policy was not negotiated. The union said the hospital broadened the circumstances around absences for discipline.
However, according to a union spokesman, it was later learned that the policy was not going to be implemented for the union's membership. Last week, on Oct. 13, the union opted to withdraw the complaint.
While fairly straightforward, there was confusion on Tuesday regarding that withdrawal, and hospital officials were quick to pounce.
Somehow word got back to union leaders that Berkshire Medical Center had withdrawn a complaint it had made against the union with the National Labor Relations Board.
BMC had previously filed a complaint that accused the union of surface bargaining and failing to make any significant modifications to its offers during negotiations. Union leadership believed the hospital had withdrawn that and sent out a press release highlighting its significance.
"This charge was obviously just a public relations ploy, one of many baseless accusations Berkshire Medical Center has aimed at its own nurses rather than settle a fair contract," reads a quote from Alex Neary, co-chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee, in the released statement.
Another quote read,"the hospital's entire charge was based in an alternate reality," from the other co-chair, Gerri Jakacky.
Except, BMC hadn't withdrawn the complaint. The union had made a mistake.
BMC's vice president of human resources quickly shot a letter to union leadership after the press release was sent.
"To be perfectly clear, Berkshire Medical Center has not withdrawn any unfair labor practice charge. As you well know, but chose not to disclose in your public release, the only party to have withdrawn any unfair labor practice charge in matters between the hospital and the MNA is your union itself," Milano wrote.
He added, "The MNA's latest stunt in misleading the public and its own membership necessarily raises the question why anyone in the community or in the bargaining unit should place any trust in anything that the union says."
The hospital and MNA have been at loggerheads for most of the year over a new contract. The nurses union says there are unsafe staffing levels that it wants addressed in the contract; hospital officials have refused, saying its proposal for a joint committee is appropriate and claiming the union is trying to galvanize support for a statewide ballot question.
The result was a one-day strike by the nurses that turned into a five-day lockout by the hospital.
Milano claims the union has been practicing "misdirection and misrepresentation" for more than a year.
But, he wrote, "we were unprepared for the complete fabrication that your organization released to the public today, falsely claiming that Berkshire Medical Center has withdrawn its unfair labor practice charge against the union.
"The MNA is apparently so fixated upon destroying the good reputation that the clinical teams at Berkshire Medical Center have built both locally and nationally that it has now chosen to invent a story that the hospital has given up on its charge that, in service to your statewide agenda, the MNA has been engaged in a yearlong pattern of bad faith bargaining."
Milano charged that the entire episode showed that MNA had targeted three hospital systems this year "just to raise public awareness of its 2018 ballot question designed to fatten the ranks and treasury of the union."
Shortly afterward, the union realized its mistake and a followup "retraction" of the press release was issued.
The news of the absenteeism policy complaint is fairly insubstantial, but Tuesday's back and forth shows just how on edge both sides are when it comes to negotiations. The union says there haven't been any negotiations since the one-day strike, but a federal mediator is still involved and will bring the sides together.
The nurses also plan another rally outside of the hospital's main entrance on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
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