News & Events

Carney Hospital RNs To Hold Informational Picket on Sept. 18th from 2 – 6 pm As Contract Talks Stall Over Salary, Health Insurance, and Contract Takeaways

Carney Nurses’ Pay Scale is Lowest in Region

DORCHESTER, Mass. — Registered nurses at Carney Hospital in Dorchester will hold an informational picket outside the entrance to the facility on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2002 from 2 – 6 p.m., as contract talks continue to stall over salary, health insurance and the hospital’s demand that the nurses give back a number of existing contract benefits to fund their own raises.

While Carney Hospital nurses are among the lowest paid nurses in the Greater Boston area, they have been able to maintain a low vacancy rate and retain an experienced nursing staff because of the package of benefits provided by its strong union contract. Now the hospital is seeking to cut a number of benefits in the contract and increase the nurses’ health insurance costs by 10% while offering a salary increase that will keep Carney well below the market for nurses.

The Carney Hospital contract dispute comes at a time when the health care industry is in the midst of a growing national shortage of nurses, which was driven by a decade where nurses saw a dramatic increase in their patient assignments, a deterioration of their working conditions, and pay rates that have remained virtually flat.

Here in Massachusetts, hospitals are now scrambling to recruit sufficient numbers of registered nurses from a very small pool of nurses still willing to work under current conditions. Nurses, frustrated with their pay and working conditions, are moving from facility to facility in search of the best environment.

"We have fought long and hard for a contract that does everything hospitals are attempting to do in the face of a nursing shortage, which is to retain a high quality nursing staff," said Marie Murray, tri-chair of the nurses’ bargaining unit at Carney. "If they weaken our existing contract and fail to bring us in line with competing hospitals, we are in danger of losing valuable staff, which will impact the quality of care we deliver."

More than 275 nurses are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Carney Hospital. They have been negotiating their contract since June 21, 2001, with seven negotiating sessions held to date. The nurses’ contract will expire on November 1, 2002. The nurses submitted the required notice to picket the hospital at the end of their negotiating session on Sept. 6, 2002. Nurses at the facility are outraged by the hospital’s stance in the negotiations.

Currently, the nurses’ salaries are up to 7% below their counterparts at Faulkner Hospital, Quincy Medical Center and Caritas Norwood Hospital. In comparison to Boston teaching hospitals, Carney salaries are as much as 20% less.

Adding to the nurses’ frustration is the fact that they have worked with the hospital over the years to hold down their salary demands to help the facility survive troubled times. In May of 2001, hospital management asked the nurses to accept admittedly meager pay increases to help it maneuver out of its financial troubles at the time.

"They told us to help them out and when the boat was turned around, the nurses would be rewarded," Murray said. "Well, now the hospital is back on its feet, yet they have failed to honor their promise to the nurses."

The hospital is offering the nurses only 10.5% over 3 ½ years, which will keep them well behind nurses at surrounding hospitals.

In addition, they have tied any offer of a raise to the nurses’ agreement to make significant reductions in their benefits package. The hospital has proposed limits on vacation and sick time accruals, freezing current vacation accruals at current pay rates, reducing their on call pay benefits, while increasing the nurses’ co-payments for health insurance by 10%.

"Management is asking the Carney nurses to fund their own pay increases by decreasing existing benefits. This is not only unreasonable, it is an insult to every nurse at this facility who has sacrificed to ensure this hospital’s very survival," Murray added.

Dispute is Manifestation of Broader Crisis

The contract dispute at Carney Hospital is one being played out at a number of facilities across the state in the wake of a growing nursing shortage in the Commonwealth. Similar job actions have been called for by nurses at MNA local bargaining units at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Cape Cod Hospital.

While Massachusetts has the highest population of nurses in the nation (over 82,000 RNs licensed by the state), we are experiencing a serious shortage of nurses willing to work at the hospital bedside. A recent survey of Massachusetts nurses found that while 81% were working in nursing, only 46% (an estimated 37,000) are working at the hospital bedside, and more than half of those nurses are working part time.

According to Julie Pinkham, executive director of the MNA, "The current shortage of nurses was created by the bad policies of the health care industry and made worse by consistent mistreatment of its nursing staff over the last 15 years. Nurses are just plain tired of being taken advantage of."

Throughout the 1990s, hospitals laid off thousands of nurses and/or replaced them with unlicensed personnel in an attempt to cut costs under managed care. Also, under managed care, only the sickest patients made it into the hospital. Nurses at the bedside saw their patient assignments increase while their patients were sicker, requiring more intensive nursing care. At many hospitals, managers compensated for inadequate staffing levels by using mandatory overtime as a mechanism for staffing their facilities.

Not only did these conditions impact nurses, those who suffer most under current conditions are patients. A number of recent studies, including one published this May in the New England Journal of Medicine and a more recent report by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals, shows that inadequate RN staffing is causing serious harm to patients, including increases in complications, an increase in medical errors and thousands of patient deaths each year.

A recent national survey of nurses by the federal government found that nurses have the lowest job satisfaction of any employee group surveyed by the government. Staff nurses in hospitals and in nursing homes have the lowest job satisfaction of all, which is due to poor working conditions and low pay. The same survey found nursing salaries have been stagnant since 1993.

Nursing is also one of the most dangerous professions. Nurses and nurses aides have the highest claims rate for back injuries of any profession. The injury and illness rate for nurses and other health care personnel surpasses that of mining. Nurses and other health care personnel are three times more likely than the general public to contract Hepatitis C, and nurses suffer assaults and workplace violence on a par with police officers and prison guards.

To address the issue of poor working conditions and dangerous staffing levels, nurses are turning to the legislature and fighting for passage of legislation similar to what was recently passed in California, which would regulate RN-to-patient ratios. The regulation of nurse staffing is essential to retaining the current workforce, and to enticing those that have left the bedside to return.

"Unless and until the RN-to-patient ratio legislation is passed and working conditions throughout the state’s hospitals are improved, the wages for the nurse willing to work in this environment must be addressed immediately."