Judge rules to protect retiree health benefit of Cambridge Hospital RNs
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
August 2011 Edition
Marking a complete victory for the nurses of Cambridge Hospital, a Middlesex County Superior Court judge issued a ruling that prevents Cambridge Health Alliance from making, or even proposing, cuts to the nurses’ retiree health benefit—something management has been trying to do for a year.
“We are thrilled to have won this victory for the dedicated nurses of Cambridge Hospital who have devoted their careers to the care of this community,” said Betty Kaloustian, co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at Cambridge Hospital. “We are also saddened that our employer has gone to such great lengths to skirt the law and their obligations to their employees. We hope this ruling will finally bring this sad chapter to a close.”
The July 1 decision is the latest in a series of legal victories for the MNA against CHA, stretching back to August 2010 when the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) ruled that CHA violated state labor law, by bargaining in bad faith and depriving nurses of their union rights following CHA’s decision to prematurely cease negotiations, declare impasse and unilaterally slash nurses’ retiree health benefit.
Last year the CHA unilaterally implemented a 40 percent cut in the retiree health benefit guaranteed under the law for more than 300 nurses who work at Cambridge Hospital. The benefit requires CHA to maintain the nurses’ health insurance benefit following retirement, paying 85 percent of the premium. The benefit is vitally important to the nurses because, as public sector employees, they have not paid into the Medicare system and would be subject to higher costs for their health care. The CERB subsequently ordered CHA to restore the benefit, pending their appeal of the decision.
In January, CHA opened negotiations with the MNA and other unions once again demanding dramatic cuts to the nurses’ retiree health benefit. The MNA immediately filed suit in Superior Court, stating that the retiree health benefit was an illegal subject for collective bargaining, as the benefit had been created and guaranteed to the nurses under the state law that enabled the creation of the Cambridge Health Commission, which subsequently merged Cambridge Hospital, Whidden Hospital and Somerville Hospital into the new Cambridge Health Alliance system. The law explicitly states that the benefit could not be changed. The judge agreed with the MNA and issued an order protecting the benefit. The MNA, which continues to negotiate with the hospital over a number of issues, expects this issue to be removed from the table.
“We can only hope that our administration will finally begin a good faith effort to reach a settlement of our union contract, and more importantly, will work with us over the long term to restore our trust in their leadership,” said Donna Mondeau, co-chair of the Cambridge Hospital local bargaining unit.