News & Events

Boston Medical Center RNs Will Hold Informational Picketing Today Over Retiree Health, Pay and Staffing

BOSTON—Registered nurses (RNs) on the Boston University campus of Boston Medical Center (BMC) will conduct informational picketing outside the entrance to the facility today from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an effort to draw public attention to key issues disputed in their stalled contract talks with management. The nurses believe the issues impact their ability to retain experienced staff and to remain competitive with other in-town teaching hospitals.

“At a time when experienced nurses are at a premium and are being courted by other hospitals in the city, this facility is taking positions that penalize seasoned nurses—positions that will eventually drive nurses away,” said Nancy O’Connor, vice-chair of the bargaining unit. “At the same time, they’re implementing changes that force all nurses, particularly newer nurses, to take on more duties and to work with newer, more advanced technologies without providing appropriate resources that are needed to ensure the safety of everyone involved. The hospital is asking more of us while giving less, all at a time when they’re making record profits off our backs.”

The 600 nurses at Boston Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been negotiating a new contract since December 16, 2004. Seventeen sessions have been held to date, with the last three sessions being held before a federal mediator.

Specific issues in dispute include the nurses’ desire to obtain a retiree health insurance benefit; a salary scale competitive with other in-town teaching hospitals; and increased resources on the off shifts to assist staff, especially younger nurses, with new technologies and unstable patients.

Retiree Health Key to Retaining Staff
Brigham & Women’s Hospital negotiated retiree health benefits for its nurses last fall, and the nurses at Newton-Wellesley Hospital followed suit last week. Now the RNs at Boston Medical Center are working to do the same.

“Retiree health insurance is an important benefit for the nursing profession, particularly for hospital staff nurses,” said Ann Driscoll, chair of the bargaining unit. “They work at a frantic pace in an intensely stressful and strenuous work environment, and they should be shown the respect of knowing they’ll have this benefit in their retirement. Without this benefit, it is very likely many of BMC’s more experienced RNs will explore options at hospitals where this benefit is offered.”

“ Nurses who’ve spent their lives safeguarding the health of their patients should have access to quality healthcare when they retire,” said Driscoll. “But it also makes good business sense. By offering this benefit, BMC would greatly improve its retention of nurses¾particularly those with experience but who still have 10 to 20 years in front of them. These are the nurses every hospital wants and needs.”

The nurses have proposed a retiree health insurance benefit in the form of a savings account, with contributions made by both the employee and the employer. Brigham & Women’s Hospital was the first hospital in the state to negotiate this benefit through the MNA.

A Competitive Pay Scale that Respects Experience
All the major unionized in-town hospitals have removed tenure requirements for the top steps on their salary scales, leaving Boston Medical Center as the only facility in the city to require more senior nurses to wait years to move up the scale. BMC nurses must wait much longer to receive raises on par with similarly-experienced nurses in the city.

It Comes Down to a Matter of Trust
“While there are a number of issues in dispute, it is the overall disrespect and lack of commitment shown by this management team that has nurses up in arms at this time,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor pointed to a number of issues related to worsening staffing problems at the facility. For example, they are asking the hospital to add “resource nurses” to the off shifts, when staffing is the lowest, to assist these nurses with new technologies and complex patient assignments.

O’Connor also pointed to the hospital’s refusal to honor and renew a written commitment dealing with the issue of “floating” nurses throughout the hospital. Floating refers to the process of moving a nurse from one area of the hospital to another. In the past, both parties negotiated an agreed upon system of floating nurses safely in order to ensure that nurses could practice safely when moved from unit to unit.

“Now the hospital is refusing to continue this commitment. They say they want to deal with the issue, but they don’t want to be bound by a contract. How can we trust them if they won’t put it in writing? This comes at a time when we have fewer resources available to care for sicker patients,” explained O’Connor. “Nurses are reporting unsafe conditions, and more RNs are being mandated to work overtime. Management’s lack of respect for patients and nurses alike-combined with their desire to renege on previous agreements—gives us great pause.”