By Donna Kelly-Williams
MNA in 2011—a new year of challenge and opportunity
A new year dawns for nurses in Massachusetts and the MNA, the power behind your professional practice. The year ahead promises to be a mixed bag of tremendous challenges and some real opportunities for nurses to make great strides in our efforts to protect our profession, our patients, our health and safety and our economic security.
Make no mistake about it. We are in for a year of tremendous change as the consolidation of the health care industry continues in the wake of health care reform. Steward Health Care, the new owner of the Caritas system, is already on the move seeking to purchase other hospitals in the state, including Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill and Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, with other target facilities on the horizon. Many other hospitals and health care systems in the state are also vying and jockeying for position, and you can expect more mergers and acquisitions to take place in the near future.
As you may have read in the last issue of the Massachusetts Nurse, the MNA has established a master agreement with Steward and the Caritas facilities, which included the creation of a multiemployer pension plan. As Steward expands and takes on new facilities represented by the MNA, the opportunity exists to bring them into the pension plan. In addition, a number of other MNA hospitals, including St. Vincent in Worcester, Cooley Dickinson in Northampton and Morton in Taunton, each have proposals on their negotiating tables to become part of the Nurses Pension Fund, a defined benefit pension plan that will provide a lifetime retirement benefit for nurses, a rarity in this economic environment. Part of the Steward master agreement is a commitment by management to stand neutral in campaigns to organize new nurses. You can expect to see a dramatic increase in the MNA’s efforts to organize more nurses into MNA bargaining units, an effort which will only increase our power.
In all our hospitals, we are facing tough fights to protect our current benefits, and efforts by management to impose dangerous practices and policies on our bargaining units. Staffing continues to be the number one concern, as hospitals have laid off staff, are refusing to fill vacant positions or are pursuing new models of care that increase nurses’ patient assignments and/or decrease support staff, further inhibiting nurses’ ability to care for their patients. Many hospitals continue to push for mandatory cancellation policies that allow them to cut nurses hours or shifts based on census. Still others are using floating as a staffing mechanism, and at Tufts Medical Center, management is forcing all nurses to float. Most of our hospitals are engaging “scripting” consultants, who institute Walmart/Disney World-like customer service approaches where nurses are forced to use specific language and phrases to boost patient satisfaction scores.
The MNA and the NNU are responding to all these issues aggressively, with focused campaigns to undo the damage the industry is attempting to perpetrate on nurses. This month, nurses at Tufts Medical Center and St. Vincent Hospital are holding special events to highlight their staffing problems and the need for safe staffing levels at the hospital. They are going to the State House in Boston to solicit co-sponsors to our safe staffing bill and new legislation we have filed to ban the practice of mandatory overtime. Their message is simple: “Legislators, without a legislative fix for the nurse staffing problems nurses like us are forced at some point to strike for what our patients need.”
To deal with the consolidation of the health care industry, the MNA is mobilizing and preparing to reorganize how we do business to work across these new networks, to work strategically and in unison to outflank the industry.
We continue to provide cutting-edge labor and nursing education programs to keep nurses up to speed and current both in their clinical practice and in their activism. Our winter/ spring CE courses, free to all members, are filling up, and our highly popular clinical conference, scheduled for May 13 at the DCU Center in Worcester, is bound to be full before you know it, so call our nursing division today or visit the MNA Web site to get your seat as quickly as possible.
At the end of March, the MNA will hold its annual Leadership Summit, where activists and union leaders from across the commonwealth will gather to plan our strategies for the coming battle. In June, MNA will once again send hundreds of members to the National Staff Nurse Assembly in Washington, D.C., to share ideas and network with NNU nurses from across the nation, while also marching on Capitol Hill for our national safe staffing bill.
As you can see, there is so much going on, locally, statewide and nationally, and all of these activities have a common requirement—the need for nurses to think and act strategically and collectively, to marshal our collective will and our collective might to achieve our goals: for safe staffing, for a safer workplace, for strong contracts with no takeaways, for sane health reform that acknowledges the value of nurses instead of attacking them.
As with all of our work, none of it is easy, or fast or simple. Changing the world for the better for our patients and ourselves is complex work but fear not, because we are smart, complex people, with an organization battle-tested and more than able to do the work that needs to be done. I invite you to embrace the challenge and seize our opportunities.