News & Events

Nurses, supporters picket outside Morton Hospital

By Tim Faulkner
Staff Writer
Posted Mar 17, 2010 @ 11:25 PM

Taunton – Organized labor was out en masse Wednesday afternoon as more than 100 nurses and their supporters picketed on the sidewalks outside Morton Hospital.

Blowing noisemakers, shouting from bullhorns and wearing signs with slogans like “Be fair to those who care” and “Protect our patients,” the energized group drew support from passers-by while clogging traffic at the intersection of North Pleasant and Washington streets.

Frustrated by failed contract negotiations, nurses, family members and Massachusetts Nurses Association organizers used the boisterous public protest to draw attention to disputes with management over staffing and an overhaul to the pension plan.

Most at the rally, however, called for reforms to “mandated” overtime, saying the extra hours added to the typical 12-hour shifts harm both employees and patients.

“Patients need quality care with people who are well-trained and clear-minded,” said Joyce Wilkins, a registered nurse and chairwoman of the MNA’s local bargaining unit.

Wilkins said the practice of “forced overtime” is used by management to ignore the expense of hiring more nurses. “Ten years ago it was almost nonexistent here. Now it’s part of day-to-day operations.”

Dressed in blue hospital scrubs, Morton nurses Deanne Jardin and Linda Condon said they joined a strike over the same issues while working at Brockton Hospital in 2001.

“Now we face the same thing here that we faced there,” Condon said.

The Morton union has not called for a strike, but they say the longer, often unannounced, shift extensions are becoming too common.

“After 12 hours, you’re tired, you’re done. You’re not going to make good medical assessments,” Jardin said.

The long hours create more risk for all parties, she said. “It can cost the hospital big money if a nurse makes an error and a patient is hurt.”

The two-hour protest was the latest salvo in the public health care crisis between the nurses and Morton management.

“Things are heating up,” said union representative David Schildmeier. “The hospital is not budging at all.”

After several extensions of the previous contract, Morton’s 400 nurses and other health care workers have been on the job without an agreement for more than a week.

The union is seeking 12-hour shift limits and enforcement of the number of times a nurse can be forced to work overtime. They are also resisting efforts by Morton to switch from a fixed pension to an employee-funded 403(b) retirement plan.

In a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Taunton Daily Gazette, Morton CEO Maureen Bryant and Edward Roster, chairman of the board of trustees, defended management’s stance on the contentious issues in order “to clarify the hospital’s position on some misinformation that you may have heard about the hospital and our negotiations with Massachusetts Nurses Association.”

In the signed letter, Bryant and Roster explain that mandatory overtime “is the staffing vehicle of last resort, and represents less than one-half of one percent of total patient care at the hospital.”

The decision to switch to a 401(k)-type retirement plan, they said, will control costs and follows a trend that “has already occurred at many other companies in many industries.”

The MNA responded with a full-page of its own Wednesday that included the points “Understaffing and forced overtime threatens the safety of your care” and “Hospital seeks to dismantle our pension.”

In an e-mail, hospital officials said they attempted to reach a compromise with the MNA on mandatory overtime but that the union has “refused to engage in any meaningful discussion regarding the hospital’s updating of its pension.”

The retirement plan change, officials said, will save the hospital $12 million over six years. And the switch to a 403(b) has also been approved by other MNA unions.

“The MNA’s decision to pursue its current course of action here, when it has agreed to a similar pension change at other hospitals, is difficult to understand.”

Referring to the “MNA picket,” the statement concluded that it was “unfortunate that the MNA has chosen to pursue this route,” but they said they will urge the union embrace the changes taking place at Morton.

Contact Tim Faulkner at