Nurses Deliver Strike Notice To North Adams Hospital

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Negotiations between the hospital and registered nurses went critical on Tuesday with a strike date set for Sept. 3, at 6 a.m.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been trying to hammer out a contract since earlier this year; the current contract lapsed in March. But concessions that health-system officials say are imperative to the financial health of North Adams Regional Hospital and that the union says will gut the contract and put patients at risk have become a major obstacle.

Nurses voted overwhelmingly on July 20 to authorize a strike in hopes of forcing the hospital to back down from a "flexible scheduling" proposal and other language on the table. Flexible scheduling was also reportedly a major sticking point during negotiations late last year between the hospital and SEIU1199, which also authorized a strike.

"All the hopes we had that management would remove the concessions and find an equitable solution went out the window today," said bargaining unit co-Chairwoman Ruth O'Hearn. "They not only kept the worst concessions on the table, they added more language that is unacceptable. We were left with no other alternative but to give them a strike date."

In a statement, hospital officials said, "We have always expressed our belief that compromise is possible, and that through engaging in the negotiating process we could arrive at fair and mutually acceptable terms. We arrived at today's negotiations with significant modifications to our proposal, in response to concerns the nurses had voiced in the media - though never at the bargaining table. However, at the end of the meeting we were presented with a previously-written strike notice."

MNA officials say they understand the hospital's frail financial condition and tried to work with the health system officials.

"Instead of taking up our offer, NARH has given the nurses no option other than setting the strike date," said co-Chairwoman Mary McConnell. "We have absolutely no idea why the hospital has decided to go to a strike that would be very expensive."

The hospital's statement said officials were "extremely disappointed to receive the notice" but are prepared to protect the health of patients.

"We want to assure the entire community that we have contingency plans in place and that North Adams Regional Hospital will continue to care for our community, should the MNA and nurses choose to strike."

Both sides acknowledged that a strike would be damaging in terms of nurses' wages and hospital resources.
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