Quincy Medical center nurses call for mediation in contract dispute
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February/March 2011 Edition
The 300 registered nurses of Quincy Medical Center, who are represented by the MNA, have filed for mediation in an attempt to move negotiations forward for a new union contract. The key sticking point for nurses and management revolves around staffing and patient care conditions. The hospital has come to the table demanding that nurses give up their contractual right to enforce mutually agreed upon staffing guidelines that both parties carefully negotiated to ensure patients receive safe patient care.
The nurses called for mediation after the hospital refused to extend the nurses’ contract at their Feb. 25 negotiation session. The current contract expired on Feb. 28. The hospital is also demanding changes that would weaken protections against using mandatory overtime as a staffing mechanism, and proposes the unilateral right to cancel hours or shifts, essentially taking away a nurse’s right to a guaranteed work schedule.
“Our goal is to reach an equitable settlement as quickly as possible that allows nurses to provide the care our patients deserve,” said Paula Ryan, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the MNA local bargaining unit. “Last year we fought hard to protect language in our contract that requires the hospital to meet appropriate staffing standards on a daily basis, which is key to keeping patients safe. Now they want to avoid any accountability for providing appropriate care for our patients.”
Ensuring safe staffing levels has been an ongoing problem at the hospital for more than two years, and the problems escalated under new leadership installed in 2009 and 2010. During that period the nurses wrote three letters to the hospital’s board of trustees requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns. The board refused to meet with the nurses. Last April, after the hospital abruptly ceased negotiations after only five sessions, hundreds of nurses conducted informational picketing outside the hospital. Late last summer the nurses took out a full-page ad in local newspapers warning the public about the staffing conditions, which finally prompted a settlement of the contract. In that agreement, nurses agreed to a number of concessions in light of the hospital’s tenuous financial condition, including a 3 percent wage cut, along with a freeze to their pension and restrictions to the nurses’ earned time benefit.
Last fall, 96 percent of the nurses cast a vote of no-confidence in their senior nursing leadership and tensions have increased since the hospital has implemented cuts to nurse staffing levels in a number of areas. In the last six months, nurses have filed a number of grievances and three arbitrations are in process over staffing-related violations of the nurses’ contract. Now the hospital is seeking to take away the nurses’ rights to file grievances or utilize arbitration as a means of holding the hospital accountable.
“As always, the nurses have agreed to make sacrifices for the good of the hospital,” Ryan said. “All we are looking for is to be treated with respect and for conditions that allow us to provide quality patient care. Right now, that is not happening. We are hoping that with the help of a federal mediator, we can reach a settlement that addresses our serious concerns so that we can provide safe care to our patients.”