Nurses on North Shore picket as management refuses to guarantee their union rights and contract
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
June/July 2011 Edition
|Nurses picket at Beverly Hospital on June 15|
For the first time in the bargaining unit’s history, the MNA nurses at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals participated in informational picketing outside both facilities on June 15. Members of the bargaining unit, which consists of nearly 700 RNs, voted to head to the picket line after negotiating with management for six months on key issues that—if left unresolved—will threaten patient safety, as well as nurses’ union rights, job security and pension benefits.
The key sticking point is management’s refusal to agree to strong contract language (“successor language”) ensuring that in the event of a sale, the new owner would recognize the nurses’ existing union and adhere to all the provisions of their union contract. Specifically, if a new owner stepped in, all the rights, benefits and protections outlined in the nurses’ current union contract would remain intact. Management is also refusing to agree to fair layoff language and wants to force RNs to self-fund their pensions.
“Management has said repeatedly that it is looking to sell this hospital system,” said Marie Freeman, an RN and co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit at Beverly Hospital. “But they have said just as often at the table that they will not sign off on basic language that would protect our existing contract in the case of a sale. This is unfair to the nurses who fought long and hard to establish this bargaining unit. And it is unfair to the patients we care for, since our contract provides protections that let us advocate for our patients in a way that non-unionized nurses cannot.”
In fact, research shows that patients who receive care in hospitals where RNs are unionized have significantly lower mortality rates than patients in non-unionized hospitals (“Registered Nurse Unions and Patient Outcomes,” Seago and Ash. JONA, March 2002).
“Refusing to add successor language to our contract is tantamount to union busting,” added Brit Thames, an RN at Beverly Hospital and bargaining unit co-chair, “because when we are sold, the missing successor clause will mean a new owner can disregard and disassemble the contract in any way they see fit. We are not willing to let this happen, and management should be embarrassed for turning this into such an issue.”
“They say they want to make it easier to sell the hospital by not including this key piece of language,” said Jeanine Burns, an RN at Addison Gilbert Hospital and secretary of the bargaining unit. “But not including it means we stand to lose our jobs, our union contract and our union voice—the very things that allow us to best protect our patients.”
Northeast Healthcare Corporation has hired Jackson Lewis LLP, one of the nation’s leading union-busting law firms, as its representative at the bargaining table, and its lead negotiator has been unnecessarily steadfast in his refusal to accept the proposal on successor language. Management, via Jackson Lewis, has also been shamefully unwavering on two additional key issues: its efforts to demolish the nurses’ pension plans and its refusal to come to a reasonable compromise on language specific to layoffs.
In the case of pensions, management is asking nurses to self-fund their retirement plans by adding nearly $80 of their own money to the fund per week. This comes at a time when NHC has offered the nurses a zero percent cost-of-living pay increase. The nurses consider this offer outrageous, particularly since recent fiscal reports showed numerous NHC managers received pay increases of as much as 65 percent—including former CEO Steven Laverty, who received a 60 percent pay increase in fiscal year 2009. “This hospital system consistently turns a profit, so this proposal is shocking to us,” said Burns. “After another year of increased revenue, management wants to cut our pension benefit and then wants us to make up the difference by paying out of pocket? It’s just ludicrous.”
In addition, management refuses to work in earnest on a fair proposal regarding nurses’ “bumping rights” in the case of a layoff. Specifically, they want an affected RN to have one choice and one choice only—to bump the least senior nurse. This means an RN will have no say and no flexibility on what position he/she moves into following a layoff, even if he/she is a 30-year veteran.
“This language is almost unheard of in the world of organized labor,” added Freeman, “and management appears tied to it because they aren’t interested in managing the bumping process. Instead, they’d rather dismantle the bargaining unit … and our nurses will be left unprotected, unappreciated and utterly marginalized.” n