News & Events

RNs at Whidden Memorial Hospital to Hold Picket on Oct. 27 from 1-5 p.m. as Contract Talks Stall Over Salary Parity and Staffing Issues

Nurses’ pay scale is lowest in Cambridge Health Alliance System, driving them to other facilities and creating dangerous staffing levels as a result

EVERETT, Mass. — As contract talks continue to stall over concerns about poor working conditions, dangerous staffing levels and the lowest pay scale in the Cambridge Health Alliance System, the nurses’ union at Whidden Memorial Hospital in Everett has scheduled an informational picket outside the facility on Oct. 27 from 1 – 5 p.m.

The union decided to picket at the end of their last negotiating session with hospital management on Oct. 21. The parties—who have been negotiating a new contract since March 27, 2003—have held seven sessions to date. The nurses’ contract expired on April 1, 2003.

More than 200 registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners and health care professionals are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at Whidden Memorial Hospital—which was absorbed into the Cambridge Health Alliance system in July of 2001. The MNA also represents the RNs at Cambridge Health Alliance-owned Cambridge Hospital and Somerville Hospital.

"Pay parity is the overriding issue in dispute," said Joanne Bartoszewicz, chair of the bargaining unit at Whidden Memorial. "While Cambridge and Somerville nurses have parity in their salary scale, Whidden nurses are currently paid 12.4 percent less then our counterparts at our sister facilities. We have the same patients and the same licenses, so why the difference in pay? This is not only unfair; it also has a dramatic impact on our ability to maintain safe staffing levels for our patients."

Bartoszewicz points to the fact that Whidden has lost a significant number of nurses in the past year to other Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston-area hospitals that pay their nurses significantly higher salaries. As a result, the RN-to-patient ratios on many floors at Whidden are at unsafe levels.

"Our nurses are exhausted, overworked and dramatically underpaid," said Bartoszewicz. "And our nurse-to-patient ratios are not only inadequate; they’re downright dangerous. We have pleaded with management to improve these conditions, but they’ve refused to address our concerns. Without pay parity, we’ll continue to lose nurses?and our patients’ care will suffer."

Nurses at Whidden Memorial who work on a medical surgical floor are regularly assigned seven or eight patients at a time. These numbers and the danger they present to patients were brought into sharp focus with the release of a study on RN staffing and patient outcomes published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was the first to tie hospital death rates directly to nurse’s caseloads. "We found that for every additional patient added to a nurse’s caseload after they have four patients already, there is a 7 percent increase in the risk of death," according to Linda Aiken, Ph.D., RN and the study’s author.

This means that when a nurse at Whidden Memorial has to watch over eight patients on average, their patients’ risk of complications or dying is about 30 percent higher than if they had the appropriate number of patients.

The union has been trying for months to convince hospital management to improve staffing at the facility, and they have filed numerous official reports of unsafe staffing in the past year as a result. These reports are filed by nurses when they are given a patient assignment that they believe "places their patient’s safety in jeopardy."

In addition to pay and staffing issues, the union is outraged at the Cambridge Health Alliance’s demand to dramatically weaken its contract by seeking language changes that would remove longstanding protections the nurses have won over the years. This includes efforts by management to alter reduction in force provisions for the nurses; alter the ability of members to bid on new jobs; and change long-standing sick and other leave provisions.

"The local nurse’s union at Whidden Memorial is one of the oldest in the state of Massachusetts," Bartoszewicz said. "We’ve fought long and hard to win the rights and protections our contract provides. At the same time that this facility demands to pay us like second class citizens in this system, they are also seeking the right to strip us of protections we’ve earned through more than 30 years of negotiations. This is no way to treat professionals?especially in the midst of a shortage of health care professionals."

The nurses will next negotiate with management on October 28.