News & Events

Is your hospital canceling shifts? Maybe you need a union

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
Septemebr 2008 Edition

President’s Column
By Beth Piknick

Do you work at a hospital that regularly cancels your shifts or reduces your hours (also known as flexing down, or variable hours) and then forces you to use your own vacation or earned time to compensate for the loss of pay?

If so, you are not alone. In fact the April issue of the American Journal of Nursing features a report on the subject entitled, "The Other Side of Mandatory Overtime: Flexing ‘Down’ Means Nurses are Losing Money and Patience."

The MNA is seeing the same trend. Our unionized facilities have been doing battle against these short-sighted, unfair practices and, in most cases, we have succeeded in severely limiting how they are used or have prevented them from being implemented at all.

We believe nurses are entitled to a set schedule and guaranteed hours. We consider mandatory cancelation as a "rolling lay off" that deprives nurses of their livelihood and that is harmful to morale and patient safety. We think it might be a good idea if hospitals kept their staffing intact on so-called "low census" days so that nurses have the ability—heaven forbid—to have a decent shift where they can provide patients with some much needed education … or maybe spend more time planning their care … or perhaps mentor some new grad nurses.

If you have ever wondered why you need a union, dealing with issues like "mandatory cancellation" is exhibit A. Consider the nurses at MetroWest Medical Center, which has two campuses: Framingham Union (nonunionized) and Leonard Morse Hospital (an MNA-represented facility in Natick). Nurses on the Framingham campus are subject to mandatory cancellation and nurses are hired into “variable hours” positions. However, when management wanted to force the same practice onto the unionized nurses at Leonard Morse, it had to negotiate that change. We are happy to report that the nurses stood up against the practice and, through a long negotiation with management, were successful in preventing the hospital from utilizing mandatory cancelation or to establish variable hours positions. This example demonstrates why unions matter and what unions can achieve.

Nurses at Boston Medical Center, though still in negotiations over their contract, have been successful in forcing the hospital to withdraw their proposal to implement the practice there. This spring, the nurses at Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill also prevented the policy. Nurses from Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield just reached an agreement that severely restricts the hospital from canceling nurses’ shifts to no more than three times a year. At the same time, non-unionized nurses at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield have no such limitations or rights to oppose the practice.

This is the power of a union. You have the right to say no to dangerous and unfair policies and procedures. You have a say. You have a voice.

For information on forming a union at your facility, contact the MNA’s organizing department at 781.830.5777 or send an e-mail to Eileen Norton at