UMass Memorial Medical Center Nurses Ratify New One-Year Contract
New Pact Includes Staffing Improvements, Pay Raise and a “Respectful Relationship” Clause Obligating Management to Work With the Union to Address Ongoing Concerns about Staffing/Workplace Issues
WORCESTER, MA – After just a handful of negotiating sessions held over the last two months, the 2,214 nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at the UMass Memorial and UMass University campuses have cast overwhelming votes to ratify respective one-year contracts that provide the nurses with needed staffing increases, a modest pay raise and a novel “Respectful Relationship” clause that the nurses hope will lead to safer care for patients and a more satisfying environment.
The relatively smooth and quick turnaround for the new contract settlement is in stark contrast to the protracted struggle for the previous contract negotiations in 2013, which was settled just prior to the nurses waging a one-day strike. That settlement was followed by two contentious years of labor management relations under the previous administration, where staffing commitments promised in the previous settlement were not met, staffing levels and services, such as the dedicated IV therapy team, were cut and nurses on the University campus had cast an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the former nursing director. However, in the last few months, the new CEO, Erik Dickson has instituted a new senior leadership team with a commitment to restoring a positive relationship with the nurses and to making strong commitments to improve patient care conditions at the facility. The new contract is an important step in that process.
“We have started to see signs of a change in management’s attitude and treatment of nurses and this contract codifies a real commitment to continue that process in the coming year,” said Ellen Smith, Co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit for the 1,238 nurses on the University campus. “We hope this contract signals a new chapter in our relationship with hospital management.”
“The nurses are relieved to have reached this settlement without the rancor and discord of previous negotiations, and the staffing improvements included in this contract should help improve the quality of care for the patients who depend on this hospital,” said Lynne Starbard, RN, co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit representing the 976 nurses on the Memorial/Hahnemann campus.
Highlights of the new agreement include:
- A commitment to add nurses to the STAT team on both campuses. The STAT team consists of experienced nurses who support nurses on the various floors, by providing care and support for critically ill patients in the emergency department, responding to patients experiencing a code, and providing IV therapy to complex patients to help compensate for the loss of the dedicated IV therapy team. The hospital has also agreed to fill all vacant nursing positions within 90 days, which will help meet the commitment in the contract to place safe limits on nurses’ patient assignments.
- Both management and nurses are beginning a process of addressing staffing issues and developing improved care processes in the busy emergency departments for both campuses.
- The contract calls for the MNA to work with management and the union representing the support staff at the hospital to develop a plan together for improving all levels of care delivery. Nurses have been very concerned about the negative impact on patient care caused by severe cuts to valuable support staff over the last two years.
- The new contracts include a novel “Respectful Relationship” clause which calls for a defined process for the union and management to meet over the coming year to address outstanding grievances and to proactively address ongoing concerns related to staffing and workplace issues.
- The contract also provides the nurses with an across the board salary increase of 1 percent, with no reduction in benefits and assures the contract scales for both campuses will be the same.
While this agreement appears to establish a new relationship between nurses and UMass management at the system’s two Worcester-based campuses, the MNA is hoping the same effort can be made throughout the system, where the MNA represents nurses at the UMass Marlborough Hospital and Clinton Hospital campuses, as well as the UMass Health Alliance campuses at Leominster and Burbank hospitals.
Unfortunately, the new message of respect for nurses and care for patients has yet to reach the negotiating table at UMass/Health Alliance Leominster Hospital, whose management team has made dramatic cuts to staffing and services, and where nurses there are poised to take a one-day strike vote on June 24 to guarantee safe care for their patients.
“One can only hope this new philosophy is carried throughout the entire system, and soon,” said Julie Pinkham, MNA executive director. “At the end of the day, it is what is needed and what is best for the patients under the care of the UMass system.”