PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center plan to go on strike for the second time.
The local chapter of the Massachusetts Nurses Association voted to hold a one-day strike on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Some 800 nurses have been in difficult contract negotiations with the hospital for about a year and a half after the last agreement expired in September 2016.
In October, the nurses held a one-day strike, which the hospital followed with a four-day lockout. For that week in October, the nurses held rallies and picketed outside the medical center's campuses. The nurses have been primarily focused on raising staffing levels, saying there are far too few nurses to handle the number and condition of the patients.
"We've been really clear that patient safety is our number one priority," said Mark Brodeur, who sits on the bargaining committee. "We want a guarantee that things won't get worse. Our patients are getting sicker, getting older, and getting more complicated."
But hospital officials don't want to get contractually locked into set numbers of registered nurses and say care is provided through multiple disciplines. The hospital has presented a few options including staffing committees but those didn't give the nurses enough of a guarantee that the situation would improve.
The union's most recent proposal calls for charge nurses to be unassigned to patients. At the same time, the union wants language ensuring the staffing ratios currently outlined at the hospital aren't diminished. Brodeur said that is to ensure that the other nurses on the floor won't end up taking on additional patients.
"We want to make sure there is some improvement," Brodeur said. "We've been saying this has been a problem for years ... we need something that makes things better."
The staffing issue has been taken up by MNA chapters throughout the state and nurses at multiple hospitals have gone on strike. The issue will also find a place on the state election ballot, as advocates have pushed for the patient to nurse ratios be written into law. Those similar efforts in the commonwealth have led BMC officials to believe that the standoff isn't over conditions at Berkshire Medical Center but rather a piece of the union's statewide agenda.
Since the strike, the two sides have returned to the table multiple times. But, the union says the hospital is unwilling to negotiate on the staffing issues. At the same time, the nurses are also still seeking information on the hospital's health insurance proposal, which is eyed to shift a greater percentage of the cost to the employees. Brodeur said at this point the union wants more details about the plan.
Brodeur said without all of the data the union doesn't have the ability to negotiate the changes. He said he hopes the hospital will provide that information soon so the two sides can make progress there.
The hospital previously rejected much of the info requested saying the union was overstepping its bounds. The hospital provided the details on how the rates were set, including local.
The union then asked for detailed information on the current medical and prescription drug plans; monthly paid claims separated by medical and prescription drug claims; monthly enrollment for three years; all changes made; the most recent data on administration, network, case management, clinical program, stop loss, and other fees associated with the prescription plan; the working rates for plans, and a census of employees eligible and enrolled in the various plans including date of birth, gender, zip code, status, and medical tier.
So, 17 months since negotiations began, the union is willing to go on strike over the contract. The union is assuming the one-day strike will be followed by another lockout. The hospital has not commented on the strike notice yet.
"The nurses are unified and dedicated to their patients," Brodeur said. "We're willing to keep fighting for this, to do what it takes."
The union is required to provide a 10-day notice of a strike. Brodeur said the union opted to provide additional time in hopes the two sides can reach a settlement before the hospital enters contracts for replacement nurses.
"We also gave them extra time so they can come and meet with us and negotiate with us," Brodeur said, saying the union is will to negotiate not only at the next scheduled session on Tuesday but at any time. "Are they really willing to spend another $4 million of our community's money to pay people from Texas and Orlando?"
During the last strike the hospital contracted with traveling nurses for the week - and the lockout was attributed to the need to sign a weeklong contract with the replacement nurses - and in all the strike was estimated to cost $4 million.
"Nurses should never be forced to go on strike to protect patient care," said Alex Neary, co-chair of the bargaining committee, in a statement issued Thursday night.
"The hospital has told us they will not give up the right to make staffing worse if they want to. This is unacceptable to us. Our nurses and our community have empowered us to stand up for what is right. We hope management will make the right decision and reach a settlement."
The hospital hasn't issued a comment on the scheduled strike yet. But, when the union's membership voted by 82 percent in favor of giving the bargaining committee the authority to call one, Brenda Cadorette, BMC's chief nursing officer, responded in a letter saying the hospital was disappointed in the vote and believes the two sides were working collaboratively.
"Our positive experience in the three negotiating sessions since October led us to believe that we could work collaboratively with the union to resolve the remaining outstanding issues with our registered nurses," Cadorette wrote at the time.
"We were, therefore, both surprised and disappointed to learn that the MNA had scheduled votes on January 11 and 16 to authorize a second strike ...
"We remain hopeful that the cooperative spirit that the bargaining committee showed at the most recent negotiating sessions will continue in future ones and will result in a fair and reasonable agreement that serves the interest of the registered nurses, the other hospital employees, the hospital itself and, most importantly, the community that we all, collectively, serve."
The local Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter has been at odds with management for nearly a year and a half of contract negotiations. In October, the nurses staged a one-day strike, which was followed by a four-day lockout. The two sides returned to the bargaining table shortly after and still have yet to come to a settlement.
The unionized nurses at Berkshire Medical Center will be voting again to give the bargaining committee the authority to call a one-day strike. Berkshire Medical Center management and the hospital's Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter have been at an impasse in negotiations for a year and a half. In October, a one-day strike was held, followed by a four-day lockout when the two sides couldn't reach a settlement.
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.
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
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