Regional Council 5 News
Community Leaders to Deliver Letter to President of Steward Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley in Appeal for Fair Treatment of Nurses
Haverhill, MA – A delegation of community leaders from Greater Haverhill will visit Steward Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley in Haverhill to hand-deliver a letter to hospital President Joseph Roach to “express concerns for the nurses who provide dedicated care at our hospital,” and to appeal for fair treatment of the nurses in protracted negotiations for a new union contract. The delegation will gather outside the main entrance to the hospital on Thursday, Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. to meet with members of the media who wish to learn more about this issue and are welcome to join the delegation as it makes the delivery if permitted by hospital security.
The delegation making the delivery will include Rev. Ralph Galen, Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield, Paul Georges, President United Teachers of Lowell and President of the Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council, Lisa Begley, President of the Haverhill Education Association and Ed Adley, Business Agent with the Teamsters Local 170. Not among the delegation on Thursday, but signing the letter are: Rabbi Ira Korinow – Temple Emanu-EL; Haverhill; Rev. Dr. Christopher T. Zeigler, Pastor – Haverhill; Mary Ellen Daly-O’Brien, Haverhill City Councilor; Jurg K. Siegenthaler, Bread and Roses Heritage Committee; Craig Fields, Business Agent-IBEW 2321; and Francis McLaughlin, President – Lawrence Teachers Union Local 1019.
“As community leaders, we have a vested interest in the future of our community hospital and in the fair treatment of those dedicated caregivers who play such a key role in success of this facility and the health and safety of the patients under their care,” said Rev. Galen, who is helping lead the community effort to support the nurses. “In making this personal appeal, we want to ensure that Mr. Roach understands that this is more than an issue of a union contract, but an issue central to the public health of our community.”
"I find it extremely disheartening that nurses who dedicate their lives to benefit the lives of their patients and the community would be treated with such disrespect,” said Georges. “Steward Healthcare, which has benefited from the commitment and dedication of these healthcare professionals, must make fair contract resolution a priority."
Interest in, and support for, the nurses by leaders in the community has been growing in recent months. The state legislative delegation representing communities served by (HFHMV) last month sent a letter to Roach, urging him to “negotiate a fair contract with the nurses so they can continue to provide the best care to the people of our communities.”
The 145 registered nurses at HFHMV, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), have been attempting for several months to negotiate a new union contract, yet the hospital has failed to engage in a good faith effort to negotiate with the nurses. As a result, the nurses were forced to file two unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the facility for bargaining in bad faith.
The full text of the letter to be delivered can be found below:
Dear President Roach,
We are writing to express our concerns for the nurses of Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley, who provide the compassionate, dedicated care at our hospital. As community, faith, and labor leaders, we can attest to the importance of having a community hospital that is accessible and is known for its great care to our friends and families.
Steward Healthcare reported $14 million in profits for the two campuses of HFH last year, with overall Steward 2015 profit of $131 million. Despite these returns, we are dismayed by Steward’s treatment of nurses, which has caused too many to find employment at other facilities, where they find greater support and respect. Over the last two years, our hospital lost 70 RNs or 41% of RN staff. That is an extraordinary turnover rate. It is troubling to know that members of the community who have sought the good care of the hospital have found that there was not a room on many days. The rooms are there, but there were not enough nurses to staff them.
These nurses are our neighbors and friends. They demonstrated their commitment to us when they sacrificed their own wages for the health of our community: They agreed to a 0% increase in wage scales for three years, 2012, 2013 and 2014, followed by a ½% increase in 2015. The hospital’s owners publicize that it supports the community by paying taxes (as would be the norm for for-profit companies). But we have not heard the company’s appreciation for Haverhill’s subsidies for its labor costs (as is not the norm for for-profit companies): The City continues to pay for the health and retirement benefits of current hospital staff who were employed when it was owned by the City. We call on your company to support the community by respecting the sacrifices and loyalty of the nurses.
Continuing to be intractable in contract negotiations, such as by denying simple information requests, denying a fair wage proposal, and failing to provide a promised pension will hasten the departure of staff to the detriment of the public’s health. This is also just the wrong way to treat decent caring people.
We are sure that this hospital can both do well while doing good. We call on you to do the right thing by the staff of the hospital, and by so doing, to do the right thing by the community.
We look forward to your response and are willing to sit down with you and discuss these issues in person.
“As nurses who care deeply about this hospital and who every day strive to provide the best care possible to our communities, we greatly appreciate the validation and support provided by our community leaders,” said Jane Emery, an RN in the hospital’s Med/Surg. Telemetry unit and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit for HFHMV. “We sincerely hope this helps convince our management to do the right thing for its nurses and, most importantly, for our patients by being fair to those who care and settle this agreement for the good of all in this community.”
The nurses’ previous contract with the hospital expired on March 31, 2016, but was extended through May 31, 2016. In December, the MNA began its efforts to work with Steward to begin negotiations for a successor agreement, yet Steward refused to provide necessary information requested by the MNA to begin fruitful talks. In response, the MNA filed its first charge of unfair labor practices against Steward Holy Family at Merrimack Valley on February 22, 2016 with the National Labor Relations Board. To date 15 negotiating sessions have been held with the next session scheduled for August 23.