Quincy Medical Center Nurses File Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against the Hospital for Bad Faith Bargaining
Quincy Medical Center Nurses File Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against the Hospital for Bad Faith Bargaining – Plan to Conduct Informational Picket on April 13
QMC Management Cuts Off Negotiations with Nurses after Just Six Sessions,
Declares Impasse, Threatens to Implement Major Concessions Including Cuts in Wages, Health Insurance and Pension Benefits on April 4
Refuses to Heed Nurses Call for Sunset of Concessions and Commitment to Agree to Staffing Improvements Needed to Ensure Safe Patient care
QUINCY, MA – The registered nurses of Quincy Medical Center have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the hospital for its refusal to engage in good faith negotiations with the nurses in their effort to reach agreement on a new union contract. The nurses are outraged by management’s recent decision to cease talks and declare impasse after only six sessions, while issuing their “last and final” offer via a letter mailed on Tuesday to the nurses. Citing the hospitals financial instability, QMC management is demanding that the nurses cut their wages by three percent, increase their health insurance by five percent, continue a freeze on their pension benefit, which the nurses agreed to in their last contract, along with other benefit cuts, which they plan to implement on Sunday, April 4.
“The nurses of this hospital are outraged by this unprecedented, and we believe, illegal approach to what should be a good faith process to reach a fair settlement that protects the hospital while valuing the role of nurses in making this hospital run day in and day out,” said Paula Ryan, RN, a longtime nurse at the hospital and chair of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “They are demanding that nurses make significant sacrifices, without providing us the opportunity to negotiate over those changes. For them, it’s take it or leave it. They are stomping on our legal rights and we will not be bullied, we will not be intimidated.”
For their part, the nurses have stated they could agree to some concessions, providing the hospital reciprocates by agreeing to make staffing improvements promised in the last round of contract negotiations, and that the concessions sunset (which means the cuts would be automatically restored) at the end of the new contract. The nurses are also seeking an ex officio (non-voting) seat on the hospital board of trustees, to allow them to provide input in the hospital’s “transformation” plan.
It was standing room only at an emergency meeting held last night for the nursing staff, where nurses expressed overwhelming and unequivocal support for their union’s position and fierce opposition to the hospital’s tactics. The meeting concluded with a unanimous vote by the membership to authorize the negotiating committee to issue the required 10 day notice for informational picketing outside the hospital, which has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 13 from 2 – 5 p.m.
“The nurses are fully aware of the hospital’s financial situation, and we are not opposed to making sacrifices, which is something we have been doing for the last decade to help this hospital,” said Ryan,. “However, we also have a greater responsibility to our patients, and we cannot accept a contract that fails to ensure that we have the staff and resources to keep our patients safe. We all have a vested interest in supporting this hospital, but we can’t do so at the expense of our patients well being. It’s one thing to shortchange staff, it’s quite another to undermine the core mission of this hospital, which is to provide quality nursing care.”
Negotiations for a new contract began on February 18, 2010, with a total of six sessions held to date. The contract expired on March 31. The MNA charge against the hospital contends that the hospital’s declaration of impasse was premature, coming only after five bargaining sessions, and only one with a Federal Mediator, who was called in by both parties for their last session on March 24 to help the parties move the process forward. Under federal labor law, impasse, which means neither party has room to move on its proposals, cannot be declared by only one party involved in the talks. If the MNA charge is supported by the labor board, the cuts implemented on April 4 could be reinstated and the hospital would be required to continue negotiations with the mediator for a settlement.
“The hospital’s move is unprecedented and totally out of bounds, as far as the MNA is concerned,” said Roland Goff, MNA legal counsel for the QMC nurses. “The parties clearly are nowhere near impasse in these negotiations, and the nurses are only interested in engaging in a good faith negotiation to reach a fair settlement that meets the interests of both parties. We believe we have a strong case and hope the hospital will stop their illegal, strong-arm tactics, and work with the nurses in a responsible manner.”
Ryan added, “Our members have also made it clear that they want this to be a shared commitment by the new management team. They have come to us demanding these sacrifices with the promise that it will allow them to transform the hospital and make us profitable again. All we are asking is that they stand behind their plan and agree that at the end of the contract, these wages will be restored. Nurses are tired of continually sacrificing their livelihoods for the broken promises of inept administrators.”
For Nurses, Maintaining Appropriate Staffing Levels is Top Priority
Nurses are frustrated because the hospital has failed to honor a contractual commitment to adhere to staffing levels the nurses negotiated during their last round of negotiations in 2009. In response to numerous complaints by nurses about staffing conditions at the hospital, management contracted with a national consulting firm on staffing and came up with staffing plans that they then negotiated with the nurses to ensure they met the nurses’ needs for safe care. The plan included specific staffing levels for every unit in the hospital, with the promise that staffing levels would be adjusted to meet the needs of the patients.
The parties also agreed to include “resource nurses” on each unit, who would be on hand to help with the flow of patients, and, when needed, to assist with complex cases and to mentor younger nurses. The resource nurse’s role, which is a position utilized in most hospitals, is essential to the efficient management of patient care and to moving patients through the system safely.
Unfortunately, the hospital has repeatedly violated its staffing guidelines, and they have misused the resource nurse position, forcing those nurses to take on daily assignments, preventing them from fulfilling their prescribed role, which has affected nurses’ ability to deliver appropriate patient care.
“In this negotiation, we are trying to work with the hospital to come up with real solutions to the current staffing crisis, yet the hospital has made no substantive change and continues to refuse to agree to adhere to the daily staffing plan we worked so hard to develop,” Ryan said. “Their only solution is to add a “stat” nurse on the evening and night shift, who would be responsible for providing assistance to understaffed units throughout the entire hospital. It’s like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose.”
In their frustration over the conditions, the nurses have written a pointed letter to the hospital’s board of trustees, and have made repeated requests to meet with the board to share their serious concerns about patient safety at the hospital. To date, they have received no response.
“The board needs to know what is going on and what is at stake in these negotiations. They need to listen to the nurses, as we provide 90 percent of the care at this hospital and we can play a key role in assuring this hospital’s future success.” Ryan explained. “As one of our members put it in our emergency meeting last night, ‘the problem for nurses is a total and complete lack of trust in our new leadership team.’ We can’t just automatically agree to such major changes, especially when they show no respect for the law, or the people who work so hard to make this hospital run.”