2005 News

Nurses rip Romney over contract impasse

09.22.2005

By Amy Lambiaso
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

From the State House News Web site:
Graphics
, Unit 7 Info

From MNA Website:
MNA Unit 7

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 22, 2005 - Without a contract for more than three years, nurses who work at state hospitals and facilities today accused Gov. Mitt Romney of having misplaced priorities and called on his administration to negotiate a workable contract as soon as possible.

Nurses who gathered here today from the collective bargaining unit that represents 1,800 state-employed health care workers said they plan to hold demonstrations picketing the administration and its contract offers and publicizing events marking the number of days without a contract.

The group also released poll results in which respondents say they have growing concerns about conditions at state hospitals due to poor staffing levels.

"The lack of a contract is an insult to us and to what we do," Karen Coughlin, a nurse at Taunton State Hospital, said at a sparsely attended press conference at the Grand Staircase.

The press conference was held to mark 815 days without a contract for state-employed nurses. The current situation leaves them unable to attract and retain nurses who are willing to work for less than what the average private hospitals offer, nurses say.

According to the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the average nurse working in a Boston private hospital earns between $40,000 and $90,000 a year. In comparison, nurses working in state hospitals earn up to $60,000. Without a contract, nurses say they have not received a raise in three years.

State-run facilities employing these nurses include those operated by the departments of mental health, mental retardation, pubic health, youth services, corrections, the Soldier's Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, group homes, Worcester State Hospital, Tewksbury State Hospital, Taunton State Hospital, and Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.

"The safety net is fraying badly and is very close to breaking," said Bill Fyfe, president of the MNA's chapter of state-employed health care workers.

Since coming into office in 2003, Romney has repeatedly cautioned that the state cannot afford the pay raises that public employee unions have negotiated with previous administrations. Administration and Finance Secretary Eric Kriss said today that most of the disagreements in negotiations are over wages.

"We have a policy of reasonable wage increases," Kriss said. "The proposals have been made and the delay is a delay in agreement . . . but we're very mindful of the needs and are making plans accordingly."

Fyfe said the administration has not made a "reasonable offer" to date, and blamed that on the governor's frequent speaking engagements and trips out of state. "He has shown a total disrespect for those dedicated professionals who have sacrificed so much to care for them," Fyfe said.

According to the poll released today, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp. during the first week of August, 73 percent of the 500 respondents believed nurses working at state facilities without a contract is a problem. In addition, 68 percent did not believe their priorities coincided with the Romney administration, and 55 percent said Romney is focused on "doing what is best for Mitt Romney." In that same question, 31 percent said Romney was focused on "doing what is best for Massachusetts."

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