News & Events

Lawrence General Nurses Plan to Picket on March 12th as Contract Talks Stall, Federal Mediator Calls for Negotiating Session in Boston for March 11th

Nurses are Seeking Contract Language to Prohibit Mandatory On Call Policies, Language to Ensure Inexperienced Nurses Receive Appropriate Training and Orientation, and a Wage Increase to Ensure Recruitment and Retention of Staff

LAWRENCE, Mass. —T he 350 registered nurses at Lawrence General Hospital (LGH) are moving ahead with plans to hold an informational picket outside the entrance to the facility on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., unless a Federal Mediator can help the parties reach an agreement at a negotiation session the Mediator has called for Tuesday, March 11th.

The picketing would be the first job action by the nurses at LGH in decades, as nurses and hospital management remain divided over four key issues, including:

  • the nurses’ request for contract language that would prohibit the use of mandatory "on call" policies as a means of staffing the hospital;
  • language ensuring that newly hired and inexperienced nurses receive proper training and precepting before taking on "charge" nurse duties (charge nurses serve as team-leaders on a nursing unit and coordinate care among the nursing staff);
  • language preventing nurses who are 62 years of age or have 30 years of service from having to rotate to the night shift; and
  • a wage increases that will help recruit nurses needed to fill 40 long standing vacancies at the facility.

"We have decided to hold informational picketing because we want the public to understand that what is at stake in these negotiations is the very safety and quality of patient care," said Patricia Rogers-Sullivan, chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s bargaining unit at LGH. "Inadequate pay and stressful working conditions have made it impossible for this facility to recruit and retain staff necessary to provide quality patient care. We are also deeply concerned that the hospital, instead of recruiting staff needed to deliver appropriate care, is intending to use mandatory on call, another form of forced overtime to staff this hospital. This is dangerous to patients and unfair to nurses."

While hospital nurses in areas such as the operating room and recovery room (where there is not 24-hour staffing) are routinely required be "on call" to cover emergency cases, it is rare for nurses in other areas of the hospital to be required to be on call. As the issue of mandatory overtime – forcing a nurse to work extra hours and extra shifts – has gained notoriety as a dangerous practice to be avoided by hospitals, many hospitals have begun to use mandatory on call policies for nurses in all areas of the hospital as means of getting around mandatory overtime to fill staffing vacancies at facilities.

"Whether it’s mandatory overtime or mandatory on call, these practices are both dangerous to patients and abusive to nurses," said Wendy McGill, the MNA representative for the nurses at the negotiating table. "Nurses deserve to be able to go home at the end of their shift, to have a personal life and the opportunity to rest and recover so they can provide optimum care."

The nurses are also concerned about how the hospital is treating new nurses, those who have just graduated from nursing school. Because it has failed to recruit appropriate staff to operate the facility, management has been assigning inexperienced nurses with little training or precepting to assume "charge" nurse duties. Charge nurses, who should be the most experienced nurse on the unit, serve as a team leader for the nurses on the unit, helping to oversee and coordinate care among the nurses on the floor.

"They are asking new nurses to assume this role, which is unfair to the nurse and inappropriate for the patients on that floor," Rogers-Sullivan said. "These nurses become frustrated and are more likely to leave the facility, which negates efforts to recruit and retain staff. We are asking for the opportunity to properly train and precept these nurses so they feel comfortable and satisfied with their care and will be more likely to stay on with us."

The nurses are also looking for a competitive salary increase to allow them to recruit nurses needed to provide safe patient care. They are seeking a 10% salary increase to maintain their position with other nurses in the region. The hospital is offering a 3% increase in the first year, with a re-opener to the contract to address salary issues in the second year.

The LGH nurses and management have been negotiating their contract since August, with 14 sessions held to date, and the last session held on March 4. The contract officially expired on Oct. 5, 2002 but the parties had agreed to extend the contract until last week when the nurses terminated the agreement to allow them to conduct informational picketing. A Federal Mediator was called in this week to move the process forward and has called for a session on Tuesday.