News & Events

North Adams Transcript Story on Strike Vote

NARH nurses prepare for vote to strike

By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
View original story on The Transcript

NORTH ADAMS—After nine months of negotiations, the nurses’ union at North Adams Regional Hospital is poised to strike within the next month, although it is still trying to wrest a contract agreement from administrators. Members of the local chapter of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at the hospital will hold a strike vote on Oct. 11, union representatives confirmed Monday.

"A strike vote authorizes the bargaining unit to call for a strike if it is needed," Mary McConnell, a registered nurse and co-chairwoman of the union’s bargaining unit, said. "We’ve made a lot of movement on our side — we’re tired of hearing that they’re not comfortable with spending the necessary money in regards to our pension plan."

Hospital spokesman Paul Hopkins said hospital officials are willing to continue negotiations.

"In regards to the pension plan, we are continuing to find a reasonable and acceptable solution, but one that also keeps in mind the needs of the health system and your community hospital," Hopkins said.

McConnell said the bargaining unit and hospital administrators last met on Thursday, but no headway was made on key issues such as the pension plan and changes to the nurses’ health care coverage.

"To take a strike vote is to no one’s benefit," she said. "However, we are committed to taking care of the community. At one point we were told we could possibly join another pension plan, but they didn’t have any information about it. People’s expectations were up."

McConnell said that option did not materialize at the last negotiation session, which had been delayed a week to give hospital officials enough time to return with the necessary information.

"They still didn’t have any information," she said. "You think that if you delayed negotiations for a week that you’d come back with it."

Although the union membership has scheduled its strike vote for Oct. 11, negotiations between the two sides are not scheduled to resume until Nov. 13.

Hopkins said hospital officials are willing to return to the table earlier and has proposed several dates in October for talks to resume.

"The hospital is eager to hold talks earlier, but the earliest MNA could agree to was Nov. 13," he said.

MNA spokesman Charlie Rasmus- sen emphasized the union is still willing to negotiate.

"We do not look at it as if talks have broken down, but we have reached a point where management doesn’t want to come forward with an offer that we find acceptable," he said.

While the union hopes to find an acceptable solution, McConnell said, its members are willing to stand up for what is fair.

"Certainly calling for a strike vote is a scary thing," she said. "But, it is sickening that we’ve been negotiating since January. We’ve had enough already. Our last meeting was the straw that broke the camel’s back."

The nurses, she said, have continuously been frustrated by decisions made by hospital administrators over the years — including the awarding of several large severance packages paid out to administrators that were let go last year.

"We’ve watched enough administrators come and go over the years," she said. "We’ve seen them come in and hire consultants, dissolve a level of administration as a way to cut costs and then slowly hire those positions back. Instead of wasting all this money on consultants and studies, they should be spending it on their faithful employees."

The union’s members also have been angered by the proposed changes to their pension system, which hospital officials say are fiscally necessary.

"We take care of the community, but we also work for a living," McConnell said. "We need to take care of things for our families and to take care of things for our futures."

She said the nurses are "tired of hearing about what the hospital is ‘uncomfortable’ doing."

"They won’t come out and say they don’t have the money because they would have to open their books," she said. "If they don’t have anything to hide, then they should open the books and prove it."

In June, the union called in a federal mediator after talks failed. When negotiations continued to stall, the union held an informational picket in July.

The hospital now offers its employees a defined-benefit pension plan, which has two parts — one part where the hospital annually contributes 2 percent of an employee’s base salary, which is vested after five years, along with another plan that has the hospital contributing 2 percent annually and the employee contributing 1.25 percent.

The hospital’s proposed plan would factor in contributions, income and gains and losses to determine retirement benefits. Nurses over the age of 55 would not be subject to the pension plan changes.