News & Events

Brockton Hospital RNs Vote 303 – 25 to Ratify Three-Year Contract Ending 103-Day Strike Pact Includes Staffing/Mandatory Overtime Protections Sought by Nurses

Nurses Celebrate Victory With Champagne and Victory Lap Around Hospital

The closely watched 103-day strike by 450 registered nurses at Brockton Hospital officially ended yesterday with a vote of 303 – 25 by the rank and file membership in favor of a new three-year contract. The vote follows a tentative agreement reached on Aug. 24th after a marathon 14-hour bargaining session facilitated by Senator John F. Kerry in negotiations held in his offices in Boston. The strike was the second longest nurses’ strike in Massachusetts’ history.

The nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, voted throughout the day yesterday at the Brockton nurses’ strike office, which is located directly across the street from the hospital. At the conclusion of the voting at 5 p.m. more than 200 Brockton Hospital nurses, family members and community supporters and members of the news media gathered outside the strike office to await the announcement of the final tally. At 5:20 p.m., the nurses’ 10-member negotiating committee emerged from the strike office with fists raised and champagne in hand to celebrate the landslide result. Linda McMahon, RN, co-chair of the nurses’ bargaining committee read the tally and announced, "The Brockton nurses strike is now over." Sen. Kerry made a point of joining the nurses via telephone for the announcement of their vote, as he placed a call to McMahon from the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. After McMahon conveyed the Senator’s words of congratulations to the nurses, McMahon held up her cell phone whereupon the crowd assembled gave a cheer of thanks to the Senator for his role in helping to bring the strike to an end. The nurses then proceeded to take one last victory lap around the hospital, this time without their picket signs.

The new contract includes key provisions the nurses had sought through the strike to improve working conditions and patient care at the hospital. Specifically, the contract obligates the hospital to exercise their best efforts to maintain appropriate staffing to minimize the use of overtime to staff the hospital, provides strict limits on the amount of mandatory overtime, prohibits the inappropriate floating of nurses, provides the nurses with the ability to monitor the hospital’s recruitment efforts and grants the nurses a 13% salary increase over the life of the three-year contract, which will expire on Oct. 14, 2003. The agreement also guarantees all striking nurses’ return to work and includes a process stipulating how the nurses’ return to work will be implemented following ratification of the contract.

"The ultimate winners in this agreement will be the patients of Brockton Hospital," said Linda McMahon, co-chair of the nurses’ bargaining unit and an emergency room nurse at the facility. "Through this contract, the hospital has made a commitment to stop using overtime and mandatory overtime as means of staffing this hospital and has agreed to improvements in working conditions and hiring practices that we hope will allow our nurses to provide optimum patient care. In a broader sense, this strike and the agreement it has generated demonstrates that the Brockton Hospital nurses will stand up for what they believe in, no matter what the cost, to ensure our patients are protected and the best interests of the community are served."

Below is a summary of the key provisions in the tentative agreement:

Staffing/Mandatory Overtime Protections
The tentative agreement includes language that calls upon the hospital to exercise its "best efforts to maintain appropriate staffing in order that overtime work is kept to a minimum." It also places strict limits on the amount of mandatory overtime assigned to a nurse to no more than 4 hours (and no nurse can work more than 12 hours), and limits the amount of times a nurse can be assigned overtime to 8 times per year. Most importantly, every nurse has the right to refuse a mandatory overtime assignment if he/she feels too fatigued or ill to safely care for his/her patients. The agreement requires the hospital to carefully document each and every instance of mandatory overtime and to review those occurrences with a staffing committee made up of unionized nurses and management.

A hiring committee will also be created under the new agreement, which will provide the nurses with an opportunity to review the hospital’s hiring practices to ensure that staffing needs are being met. The hospital has also agreed to hire nurses to fill a critical care float pool to address staffing shortages in these areas, where problems with mandatory overtime and understaffing have been most acute.

If problems arise in compliance with the contract, the agreement is subject to a shortened grievance and arbitration process. It is this provision in the contract that caused the hospital to initially refuse to accept the language. To help break the logjam, the nurses agreed to language that controls an arbitrator’s remedy regarding staffing levels. Outside of setting staffing levels or hiring to set staffing levels, an arbitrator may impose any remedy on the hospital if he/she finds management violated the agreement.

"Our primary concern was less the specific remedy of arbitration and more that the hospital commit up-front and in writing to make their best efforts to staff appropriately to avoid the use of overtime," McMahon said. "We have also received assurances from both Senators Kerry and Kennedy that they will be closely monitoring the implementation of this contract, and would assist us if any problems arose. It is the underlying assumption of this agreement that more nurses need to be hired to improve the working conditions that led to this strike."

Protections Regarding Inappropriate Floating of Nurses
In addition to mandatory overtime, the nurses also sought protections against inappropriate "floating" of nurses to cover for staffing shortages in the facility. Floating is the practice of moving nurses around from one specialized unit to another. At Brockton Hospital, managers floated nurses from unit to unit regardless of their ability to or experience in working in that unit. Nursing today is highly specialized. It is not acceptable to move nurses from the maternity ward to the emergency room and expect them to function safely and competently.

The new agreement includes language the nurses had sought to protect them from being forced to work in an area where they were not competent to practice safely. Specifically, the language states, "A nurse shall not be floated to another unit without unit-based orientation in advance of any floating. Such orientation shall include competency orientation in the task the nurse is being required to perform."

"Again, the patients are the winners here, as they will be assured that the nurse providing their care has the specialized skills and training necessary to meet their needs," McMahon explained. "Under Massachusetts law, it is the nurse who retains the full accountability for the safety of the patients he/she cares for. It is important for nurses to have the resources to provide care safely, and that nurses are placed only in situations where their training matches the needs and expectations of the patients."

The agreement also provides a salary increase totaling 13 percent over the life of the three-year contract. The nurses will receive a 3% increase effective July 1, 2001 (retroactive to Oct. 15, 2000); a 4.25% increase effective Oct. 15, 2001; a 3% increase effective Oct. 15, 2002 and another 2.75% increase effective April 15, 2003.

According to McMahon, the improvements in working conditions and salary in the agreement lay the groundwork for a positive future for Brockton Hospital if the hospital fulfills its obligations under the contract. As the strike lingered on, many nurses found work at other facilities where more favorable labor/management relations exist, and a number of nurses are now working in Boston teaching hospitals where the pay surpasses that of Brockton Hospital.

"Our nurses have found a world outside Brockton Hospital that finds them highly skilled and valuable," said McMahon. "Once this agreement is ratified, the onus will be on Brockton Hospital management to show our nurses that they can be valued and respected here. We hope that this agreement provides a catalyst to efforts to recruit new nurses into this facility, but more importantly, to retain the dedicated staff who are so important to the recovery of this hospital after the strike."

Return to Work Agreement
Finally, the tentative agreement contains specific language detailing the process for the nurses’ orderly return to work. The agreement guarantees all the nurses will return to work. Management is expected to begin calling some of the nurses back to work within four days of ratification, depending on patient care needs. Each nurse will have 10 days to report to work following written notification by management of their official return to work date.