BY MACKENZIE ISSLER RECORDER STAFF
GREENFIELD — About 50 people came out to support the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and hospice nurses at a rally at the Greenfield Town Common on Wednesday.
The local nurses were joined by their colleagues, friends, patients and family as they rallied for a fair contract. White, yellow and blue signs lined the Greenfield common, as many supporters wore personalized signs around their necks. Cars driving by honked their horns in support.
‘I can’t say enough for them,’ said Marty Cormie, mother of VNA nurse Chris Clark. Cormie, who lives in Gill, had tears in her eyes as she said that the nurses were comforting and respectful to her and her husband when their services were needed for her husband.
Clark has been a VNA nurse for six years and was at the rally with her mother and husband.
‘If Baystate knows the community is behind their nurses, things will change,’ she said.
Lyn Douyard, a VNA nurse in Greenfield, was joined by her daughter, Kylee, and two friends of the family, Stephanie and Jill Skowronek.
All three girls, Kylee, 9, Stephanie, 12, and Jill, 13, held signs in support of Lyn Douyard and the other nurses. They said that they were there because the nurses needed more money.
Baystate VNA and Hospice and its nurses have been negotiating a new contract for about two years — a process that both sides said has been both tedious and time consuming. Now, the nurses, with the support of the Massachusetts Nurse Association, have taken their cause to the community.
Anthony Antonelli, a member of the MNA and the lead negotiator for the new contract, said that they have been collecting signatures for a petition calling for the fair resolution of their contract. The petition was at the rally for supporters to sign. Ruth Odgren, president of Baystate VNA and Hospice, said in an interview on Tuesday that she has not yet been presented with any petitions.
Antonelli said that the petitions are being collected and will be sent to Baystate management on Wednesday.
Diane Morrisey, a hospice nurse at Baystate, said that all together there are about 21 nurses treating about 230 patients in both Franklin and Hampshire counties.
Clark emphasized the territory that the VNA and hospice nurses cover, which spans from Orange to Northampton.
Some of the issues that the nurses are trying to negotiate are wages, paying for health care and patient assignments. Karen Eddings, a VNA and hospice nurse, said that she has to pay $500 a month for health insurance.
The rally concluded with speeches from nurses Eddings and Willi Ryan. The speeches thanked the community for its continuing support, gave background on the nurses’ situation and called once again for a fair contract.
In 2004, Franklin Medical Center closed its Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice in Greenfield. Not long after, Springfield-based Baystate started its own VNA and Hospice facility for the upper Pioneer Valley, out of offices in Sunderland.
A lot of the workers laid off from the Greenfield operation were rehired in Sunderland, said Odgren.
The National Labor Relations Board required that Baystate negotiate a new contract with the Sunderland VNA nurses. The move dissolved the previous bargaining unit, said Morrisey.
Negotiations began between the management and the nurses in the fall of 2005. They met about 20 times during a year, said Odgren. But, after momentum was stalled, management requested a mediator be brought in. ‘I think that it has been helpful,’ said Odgren. Morrisey had a different opinion on the presence of a mediator. Even with one, she said the process has been slow and painful. ‘It has been a struggle,’ she said. There are three negotiation sessions scheduled for July, said Odgren. And, it has been agreed upon that a contract should be finished by the end of the last session. ‘I think people have negotiated in very good faith on both sides,’ said Odgren. ‘We want to see this finished.’