News & Events

RNs at Marlborough Hospital to Hold Informational Picket on May 27

Move follows 15 negotiation sessions and efforts by management to decimate nurses’ pension

MARLBOROUGH, Mass.—Registered nurses at the Marlborough Hospital Campus of UMass Memorial will hold an informational picket outside the facility located at 157 Union Street on Thursday, May 27, from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The nurses plan to hold the picket in order to draw public attention to key issues that are in dispute in stalled contract talks with management.

More than 160 registered nurses are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Marlborough and they have been negotiating their contract since August of 2003, with 15 negotiating sessions held to date. The key issues in dispute include the maintenance of the nurses’ current pension plan; the nurses’ need for a salary increase in order to remain competitive with other UMass hospitals; and the inclusion of contract language that will provide clear guidelines regarding the use of mandatory overtime.

Management Moves to Dismantle Pension Plan
The issue of pension has been the bargaining unit’s main focus during the last several months. Prior to the current contract negotiations?and still maintained under the bargaining unit’s extended contract?nurses’ pensions have been part of a “defined benefit plan.” Hospital management however, under the leadership of CEO John Polanowicz and Board of Trustees Chairman Neil Ferris, is proposing to replace the nurses’ current defined benefit plan with a highly inferior defined contribution plan.

With a defined benefit pension plan, the employer is obligated to provide a guaranteed contribution to the employees’ pension and is obligated to provide a guaranteed level of retirement benefit to the employee regardless of the investment returns of the plan. With the defined contribution plan proposed by Marlborough Hospital management, both the employer and the employee would make contributions to a 401K-type retirement investment plan—with the investment risk borne entirely by the nurses. For some nurses at the hospital, this change to a defined contribution plan could result in as much as a two-thirds cut in retirement benefits.

"The hospital’s proposed plan is substantially inferior to the current retirement benefit," said Carol Palazzi, RN and chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit at Marlborough, “and its implementation could have an enormous impact on the quality of a retiree’s life. We’re finding this to be particularly true for our fellow RNs who are older than age 45. Under management’s proposal, these nurses would bear the risk for their future retirement assets in the highly sensitive stock market. This amount of risk isn’t fair?particularly for nurses who are just a few short years away from retirement.”

In addition to the devastation that management’s proposed defined contribution plan would wreak on individual nurses’ retirement plans, the bargaining unit at Marlborough is also very concerned over the impact this change would have on the quality of patient care.

"It is a known fact that the healthcare industry is in the midst of a major nursing crisis," said Kevin McManus, also an RN and the bargaining unit’s vice chairperson. “Staffing conditions have gotten worse, and it’s harder to find and keep qualified, experienced nurses. The competition for RNs in the current market is fierce, but one of the strongest benefits offered by Marlborough Hospital—and one of the most important tools for retaining our most seasoned and experienced nurses—is our defined benefit plan. In fact, this benefit may be the single item in our contract that is causing nurses to stay at this facility. And now management wants to take that away."

Both McManus and Palazzi added that if this happens, experienced nurses will leave Marlborough to find better jobs with better pay and benefits elsewhere?dramatically increasing the likelihood that a dangerous work environment will develop for both nurses and patients.

With contract negotiations at a standstill because of the pension issue, the MNA bargaining unit recently contacted both John Polanowicz and Neil Ferris to say that it was ready and willing to submit the pension question separately to the unit for a binding vote.

"The management team at Marlborough responded by saying that ‘while a vote is a democratic process’ it was not willing to do anything other than discuss the issue at the table?probably because they already know a vote will result in a decision against the change," said Eamon Hogan, the associate director who works with the unit on behalf of the MNA.

"It is clear that management is trying to dismantle a valuable pension benefit," added Hogan, "and that the RNs in this unit are willing to take action to prevent it from happening."

Language Specific to Salary and Overtime also in Dispute

  • Salary: Currently, RNs at Marlborough Hospital who are at the top of the pay scale earn between 13 and 23 percent less than their counterparts at UMass’ other campuses. Nurses at Marlborough want to negotiate new top-of-scale salaries based on parity, but the top-of-scale amounts that management has presented cap off at substantially less than the increases that the bargaining unit has asked for.
  • Mandatory Overtime: The bargaining unit at Marlborough is also looking for the same language that is contained in the contract for RNs at the UMass Memorial Hahneman campus. This language would provide both the union and management with fair and clear guidelines to follow in the event that mandatory overtime is necessary.