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Nurses file labor complaint during contract talks

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GREENFIELD — In the midst of heated negotiations, the Baystate Franklin Medical Center registered nurses have filed an unfair labor practice charge after they felt their freedom of speech was violated by the hospital.

The nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, filed the charge on March 21 with the National Labor Relations Board against the hospital for ”their unlawful attempt to silence freedom of speech for nurses and their union.”

According to a statement from the MNA, Baystate’s director of human resources Jay Brady removed information posted on MNA bulletin boards in the hospital. The posters were put up in response to the heated negotiations that the MNA bargaining unit in the hospital has been involved with the Greenfield hospital’s parent corporation, Baystate Health, since last November.

Amy Swisher, the hospital’s director of public and community relations, said copies of the one posting were removed from a bulletin board at the hospital, ”as we believe the information is unlawful.”

The MNA attached a copy of their poster, which is a list of nine slogans, including ”Talk about negotiations during break” and ”Always know your contract.”

The local hospital is the only Baystate hospital that has a union for its nurses. Baystate Health also operates Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware and Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

Swisher said the hospital has been engaged in extensive negotiations with the MNA and is prepared to settle this contract for the nurses. But, she said, the MNA ”has repeatedly stalled the negotiating process by canceling meetings and refusing to schedule any meetings as they did all last month, creating unnecessary delays that seriously harm efforts to finalize the contract.”

The MNA Monday cited some sticking points in the talks.

According to the MNA, Baystate has put a proposal on the table that says ”the Association/unit representatives will not post, permit the posting of, or condone the posting of material which is inflammatory or derogatory to the hospital, its board, administration or any of its supervisors, managers or employees.”

”We have told management since we first saw this proposal that we will never give them the right to censor the material we post on our bulletin boards,” said Ann Lewin, registered nurse and bargaining unit chairwoman. ”We believe we, as all Americans, have the constitutional right to post our union material on our boards. This is clearly a matter of freedom of speech and we will not give in on this issue.”

Charles Rasmussen, MNA associate director of communications, said the posters at issue were put up around the hospital about two weeks ago and within days, they were being taken down.

One of the lines of the poster read ”Call in sick or being on call is still our option.”

The MNA said the Baystate management has translated the comment to mean the nurses are threatening a sick-out.

According to Mary Colleen MacDougal, registered nurse and negotiating committee member, management’s claim is unfounded and false — and that the line refers to two proposals Baystate has put on the table during negotiations. According to the MNA statement, one would allow Baystate to discipline or terminate a nurse who is sick too often, even if it is documented and legitimate. The other ”demand on the table” would give Baystate the ”absolute unilateral right” to cancel scheduled shifts and to mandate overtime.

Rasmussen said the new language proposed in the contract would make it easier to discipline the nurses who take too many sick days. He said the nurses feel that the language that exists now reflects that there are extenuating circumstances why people have to take days and there is language that says nurses aren’t required to accept mandatory overtime.

An employee at the National Labor Relations Board in Boston said the board will first investigate the claim to determine if there is any merit.