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:
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.”