News & Events

RNs at the Memorial Hospital Campuses of UMass/Memorial to Conduct Informational Picketing on Nov. 7th To Protest Management’s Refusal to Grant Memorial Nurses Parity with UMass Nurses in Salary/Benefits

Memorial Nurses Have Been Negotiating Their First Union Contract for a Year.    Memorial Nurses Are Lowest Paid in City of Worcester, Making Between $5-10 Per Hour Less Other Nurses

WORCESTER, Mass. — The registered nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at UMass/Memorial Health Care who work at Memorial Hospital Campus, Hahnemann Campus, and the Home Health and Hospice Campus will hold an informational picket outside the Belmont St. entrance to Memorial Hospital on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002 from 2 – 5 p.m. The date of the picketing marks the one-year anniversary since the beginning of contract talks.

The MNA represents more than 800 nurses at these Memorial Campuses. The nurses voted for their union on June 21, 2001. Since beginning talks last November, more than 25 negotiating sessions have been held with negotiating sessions scheduled for Nov. 5 and 6. While progress has been made on some fronts, talks have stalled over management’s refusal to grant the Memorial campus nurses parity in pay and benefits with their MNA represented colleagues on the UMass campus. The Memorial nurses are the lowest paid acute care nurses in Worcester, making between $5 – 10 per hour less than their counterparts on the UMass campus, even though they do the same work for the same employer.

The nurses are also concerned about management’s refusal to agree that health insurance benefits will not be changed during the term of the contract. The hospital is insisting on the unilateral right to change the health insurance benefit at management’s discretion. They are also refusing to grant the nurses legitimate seniority rights and contract rights the UMass nurses enjoy in the event of a reduction in force at the facility, nor does management agree to grant the nurses similar health and safety language in their contract they have afforded the UMass nurses, which the nurses see as essential to protecting them from unsafe working conditions.

"There is more than a union contract at stake in these negotiations, the dignity of nurses and the safety and quality of patient care are also on the line," according to Jacqueline Brosnihan, operating room nurse and co-hair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit. "When UMass Medical Center and Memorial Hospital merged in 1998, the new management promised us we would receive the same pay and benefits as our nursing colleagues on the other campus. They have yet to keep their word. Right now, we are being treated like second class citizens. It’s unfair and it makes no sense given we are in the midst of a growing nursing shortage and competition for nurses in Worcester and throughout the state is fierce."

The below market salary and benefits package is preventing the hospital from recruiting and retaining nurses to provide the quality of care patients’ deserve, Brosnihan explained. "We are loosing nurses every week to other facilities in this city, valuable, talented nurses who don’t see why they should do the same work for inferior pay and benefits when they can just cross the street and work for UMass or Worcester Medical Center. If we can’t recruit new nurses and, more importantly retain our existing staff, we will not be able to staff this hospital appropriately, and then it will be the patients who suffer."

The contract dispute at UMass/Memorial Health Care is one being played out at a number of facilities across the state in the wake of a growing nursing shortage, 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.

The nurses at Memorial organized a union on their campuses precisely to address concerns they had over deteriorating staffing levels, which they believed could threaten patient safety and increase the shortage of nurses at the facility. Their concerns were given support by a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that decreased staffing levels lead to an increase in mortality for patients, as well as lead to increased burnout and decreased job satisfaction for nurses.

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

Nurses who belong to the Massachusetts Nurses Association are pursuing a twofold strategy to deal with the current crisis: at unionized facilities like UMass Memorial, they are trying to convince management to provide salary and benefits to recruit and retain staff needed to deliver care; while on the state level, the nurses are working collectively to pass legislation to regulate appropriate RN-to-patient ratios to ensure safe care and to create an environment that will keep the nurses already on staff and to entice nurses who left the hospital bedside to return.

According to Brosnihan, "Yes, we are fighting for a fair contract, but ultimately we are fighting for the safety of our patients. Those with the most to lose in this struggle are our patients and their families who depend on nurses for their care."