News & Events

RNs at UMass Medical-University Hit the Picket Line Hospital Demands Concessions Despite Hospital’s $94 Million Surplus

Proposed Contract Would Decimate Nursing Care at Central Mass.’s Key Trauma Center

Worcester — Registered nurses (RNs) on the UMass Memorial Medical Center-University Campus will conduct informational picketing outside the entrance to the facility today in an effort to draw public attention to key issues in their contentious contract talks with management. The nurses believe the issues impact their ability to continue to provide safe care for their patients and the hospital’s ability to retain and recruit experienced registered nurses.

The 900 nurses at UMass University Campus, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been negotiating a new contract since December of 2005, with eight sessions having been held to date.

Negotiations began on a very negative note when management put forth an unprecedented set of concessions that would decimate 25 years of progress by the nurses union. “The contract proposals that management has handed across the table so far are shameful,” said Kathy Logan, an RN and the chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit at UMass. “The message being sent is that nurses are a non-essential resource at the University Campus. While they have turned a $94 million profit in the last fiscal year, they expect the nurses to accept massive concessions.”

“We have always provided quality care for our patients, we have worked together with management, and we have worked through much adversity, such as the merger,” said Judy Locke, RN and vice chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit at UMass. “But now that we see the profits of our labor turning into a surplus for the hospital they tell us that the only thing they have in mind for us is cuts in benefits. It is very disheartening.”

The RNs proposal: Strengthen the ability to Retain and Recruit the most experienced RNs

The corner stone of the MNA University Campus proposal is to have our hospital in the position to hire and retain the most experienced nurses. Our patients expect and deserve nothing less. We believe our proposals will allow us to continue to deliver the highest quality healthcare to our patients.

To this end we have forward the following proposals:

  • Safe and secure parking spaces for on-call nurses. Many nurses take on-call duty in the overnight hours. We are asking that the hospital provide a secure parking location, in well lit areas, for those nurses who have to come in the middle of the night.
  • Moving from 12 to 8 hour shifts. We have found that many of the younger RNs choose to work 12 hour shifts. For many this works well for their family life. We have language that would make it easier for these nurses to change to 10 or 8 hour shifts as their personal demands change.
  • A key proposal to retain experienced nurses is to guarantee that any day shift RN with 20 years of service to the hospital, and having reached the age of 55, will not have to rotate to work evenings or nights.

Management’s proposal: Cutting benefits and working conditions to the point where it will be very difficult to Retain and Recruit experienced nurses.

Hospital management is asking MNA members to accept contract language that aims to gut nurses’ pension benefits, while denying the benefit altogether for new hires. Specifically, these proposals would provide key benefits to senior nurses while newly-hired nurses would not be eligible for the same benefits:

  • Contributions to senior RNs’ defined benefit pension plans will be frozen, and new RNs will not get the defined benefit pension at all. The provision of the UMMC pension was a condition of the merger agreement that created the UMass Memorial system.
  • A weakening of maternity/FMLA policies.

According to Logan, “Essentially they’ve decided that this negotiating committee is willing to sell out newly-hired RNs. We will never agree to that. We will not sell out our profession by hurting the nurses who will follow us.”

Management is also seeking:

  • A reduction in personal days.
  • The elimination of three holidays.
  • A new distinction that makes anyone working less than 32 hours per week a part-time employee, which means they will be forced to pay a higher percentage of their medical coverage.
  • Elimination of the program that allows nurses to donate sick time to co-workers in need.
  • The gutting of language specific to “reduction in force” (RIF), resulting in the weakening of the protections given to senior nurses if jobs are cut.

In the Black, but Still Under Attack
One of the most shocking components of the nurses’ struggle to achieve a fair contract is that UMass Medical Center had posted record profits of $94.3 million dollars in fiscal year 2005—yet management is still determined to decimate the very thing that is most essential in patient care: nursing.

In a December 21 memo to hospital staff announcing the windfall, John O’Brien, president and CEO, wrote that UMass Memorial would continue to be focused “on creating an outstanding patient experience, becoming the workplace of choice … and serving (the) community.”

“A hospital is an institution of nursing care,” said Locke, “so Mr. O’Brien’s goals cannot possibly be met without that nursing care in place … which makes us wonder why management is attacking us when they should be thanking us for our contributions, our skills and our dedication.”

“To say that the MNA bargaining unit is angry over these issues is an understatement,” said Logan. “It is our patients that are also under attack. If we were to accept this contract many of our most experienced nurses would leave, and it is the patients that will suffer. We care about our patients and will not accept any contract that makes it difficult to retain and recruit qualified and experienced nurses.”

The union’s current contract is set to expire in April.