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 17 sessions having been held to date.
The talks have not gone well. The nurses have put forward a number of innovative proposals that would deal with issues important to the administration while allowing the hospital to retain and recruit experienced nursing staff. UMMCH has responded negatively and continues to propose more than 50 concessions, including proposals that would strip the pension plan, take away eight sick days, three holidays and three personal days, cut by 40 percent the annual step increases, and grossly increase the health insurance costs. The hospital has also offered insulting wage increases of as little as 1 percent.
‘We can’t figure out just what it is the administration wants,” said RN Kathie Logan, chairperson of the bargaining unit. “They say our proposed annual pay increases are too steep so we offered to reduce these and they refused. Our goal in these negotiations is to guarantee patient safety and quality care at the hospital. We understand that if the hospital were to get the concessions they are calling for the highly qualified nurses would leave for hospitals in Boston where there is higher pay and better working conditions. If that were to happen the quality of patient care would suffer in central Massachusetts.”
The UMMCH University Campus is the only Level One Trauma Center in central Massachusetts. This large teaching hospital depends on the continuity provided by the experienced nursing staff. According to Judy Locke, RN vice-chairperson of the unit, “We are the glue that holds this institution together. We do not understand why the administration is treating us in such a demeaning fashion.”
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 and central to the hospital’s success: 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.”
“We want to continue to provide excellent care to this community,” said Logan. “The community should understand that the nurses are very upset with the slow movement of these negotiations. We would like to resolve this without any further consequences but we are very serious about protecting our hard-fought contractual rights and benefits and the quality of care for our patients. We will not accept a contract that threatens that nursing program at UMMCH.”
The union’s current contract expired in April.