The nurses held a rally in front of the hospital on Thursday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center have completed a review of the hospital's proposed changes to health insurance and said they can live with it.
But, they say there is still work to be done on the staffing issue.
The local Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter and the hospital have been in contract negotiations for a year and a half. The last contract expired in September 2016 and negotiations have been ongoing since. Last October, the nurses held a one-day strike that was followed by a one-day lockout.
Early this year, the nurses voted on a second strike but called it off after a late-night negotiation session showed progress. At that February meeting, BMC officials put forth a more aggressive offer in hopes to reach a consensus. The hospital also provided data on its health insurance proposal that the union had been seeking for months.
Then contract talks stalled as the union sought an actuary to review the plan. Particularly, the nurses had been concerned with a shift in the ratio of premiums employees pay by 10 percent for individual plans.
In April, the two sides met again. BMC spokesman Michael Leary said the hospital agreed to keep that offer, which had averted the strike, on the table provided the nurses didn't issue another 10-day strike notification.
On Thursday, the union held a rally outside of the hospital. There, Barb Connor of the union's bargaining committee said the union has agreed to concede the health insurance issue, which she called a "major compromise."
The union is willing to accept the new premiums on health insurance but, in return, it wants stronger language to keep charge nurses from having patient assignments.
"Our actuaries analyzed the data and we decided as a committee, after long discussions, to offer the hospital their proposal on health insurance. We will give management their number-one priority, so long as they agree to improve staffing in our contract and provide a fair-wage proposal that helps mitigate the cost of the insurance increase," Connor said.
A lot of that is already part of the hospital's current offer. The hospital's offer calls for 12 percent salary increase for nurses over the life of the contract and increased pay for differentials. It does have language limiting the charge nurse's patient responsibilities. And it keeps the change in the health insurance premium split.
What nurses ask is now more about the nitty-gritty details. The union believes the hospital hasn't gone far enough when it comes to the staffing component.
According to MNA spokesman Joe Markman, the hospital's offer does provide relief for some charge nurses but not for all. The union has put forth a proposal that expands the type of charge nurses who are covered -- such as a nurse who doesn't have the formal title but does take on the job during a given shift -- and looks to more specifically outline the types of occasions for when charge nurses have patient assignments.
"We want to be really clear in the contract language," Markman said.
The nurses say they don't want charge nurses to begin shifts with a patient assignment and from there, only be given patient assignments under certain circumstances. And they also want assurances that the hospital will recruit for open jobs.
"Charge nurses are staff nurses who take on a special role where they can help coordinate care throughout a hospital unit. This means helping with patient admissions and discharges, communicating with doctors and patients' families, making sure other nurses have an appropriate mix of patients based on how sick patients are, and helping nurses care for their patients when necessary," Connor said.
The nurses started negotiations with a focus on staffing and that still continues to be the biggest point of contention.
Markman called charge nurses "critical" for their role in essentially managing the unit and being able to direct resources under changing conditions, handle much of the required paperwork, and make sure the other nurses have the right mix of patients.
The union is willing to accept the hospital's full health insurance proposal -- implementation date may still be a sticking point -- in exchange for its staffing language.
The hospital, however, isn't ready to commit to the union's proposed compromise yet. After putting forth what they felt was a fair contract months ago, the hospital is waiting on whether or not the union will accept it.
"BMC presented a comprehensive and generous offer to its nurses nearly two months ago. Although the MNA has yet to accept or reject that offer, the hospital expects that the union will give its answer at the May 25 bargaining session," Leary said.
In the past, the hospital has been cautious about certain specifics being placed into a contract because officials feel it could open them up to a grievance when unexpected things happen. The hospital has been focused on keeping flexibility in the way the staffing is done. So, while the distance between the two sides has been somewhat narrowed, sorting out that language still poses a challenge
Markman said the health insurance and the staffing measures are the two most outstanding issues and if those two can be solved, he believes a settlement would quickly fall into place.
There certainly isn't any guarantee that a settlement is pending and a second strike still weighs heavy in the minds of both sides.
"On May 25, when we return to the bargaining table with our one-day strike notice in hand, we hope that the hospital will take yes for an answer and settle a fair contract," Connor said.
When hearing that the nurses were rallying with a focus on safe staffing complaint forms, Leary found that troublesome because the last time the union did so was directly before a strike.
"The timing of this press release about MNA staffing complaint forms is worrisome, because the first time that the MNA used this tactic, the October strike followed in just about a month. We are troubled that the May 7 release is just an early warning of a second strike," Leary had said prior to the rally.
The union nurses at Berkshire Medical Center have called off the strike. After a late night of last-minute negotiations Thursday, the local Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter and BMC's administration opted to withdraw the strike as a contract settlement potentially nears. The nurses were planning on a one-day strike on Tuesday, which likely have been followed by a lockout.
The 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 of 2016.
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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Education Task Force Continues Study on Countywide School District
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
Project manager Jake Eberwein, center, presents his management plan to the task force.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire County Education Task Force is trying to anticipate potential problems on the pathway to a unified county school district.
The task force meeting at Berkshire Regional Planning's office Saturday morning certainly didn't solve any problems but did try to outline where those challenges may arise.
As with all other education initiatives the first hurdle they have is money. More specifically the lack of it.
"The full proposal we pitched (to the state Department of Education) was $420,000 for each of the first three years and then another $250,000 for each of the next two," said outgoing Lee Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein.
Sutton led an itinerant childhood under the thumb of his alcoholic, abusive biological father. After shuttling between Massachusetts and the state of Florida, he was barely able to make it to the 11th grade before quitting in the first week. click for more