Nurses and supporters protest outside Morton Hospital and Medical Center Wednesday afternoon
By Tim Faulkner
Posted Mar 24, 2010 @ 09:37 AM
Last update Mar 24, 2010 @ 11:10 PM
Taunton – Contract negotiations between Morton Hospital nurses and hospital administrators took a turn for the worse Wednesday, raising talk of a strike for the first time.
In response to an announcement that the hospital planned to follow through on a phase out of its employee pension and replace it with a 401(k)-type plan, Massachusetts Nurses Association representatives filed legal action against the hospital, saying the move violated the “good faith” of the bargaining process.
In an MNA press release, union representatives said they filed the grievance with the National Labor Relations Board due to the hospital’s “extremely hard-line stance which has outraged professional staff and may force them to take a vote to strike to protect their pension benefit.”
The legal move came after negotiations on Monday failed to bring a settlement over reducing mandatory overtime, hiring of staff and a proposed pension overhaul.
“None of us want a strike. We want a good faith negotiation for a fair settlement,” said Morton nurse Joyce Wilkins, the chairwoman of the MNA’s local bargaining team. “But we are committed to using our legal rights, including a strike, if our members determine that is what is necessary to protect our interests and the interests of our patients.”
The union is seeking 12-hour shift limits and enforcement of the number of times a nurse can be required, or “mandated,” to work overtime. They also want improvements in scheduling, while they are resisting efforts by Morton to switch from a fixed pension to an employee-controlled 403(b) retirement plan.
The union and administrators have met 18 times since negotiations for a new contract began on Oct. 15 of last year. A federal mediator negotiated the last four meetings.
After several extensions, the contract covering 400 nurses and other health workers at Morton expired on March 8. More than 100 Nurses and their supporters staged a rally outside the hospital on March 17.
In recent weeks both sides have accused the other of stalling negotiations.
“Despite the fact that we have tried over the course of countless negotiating sessions to address this issue, the MNA position on the pension plan has never changed and has prevented any agreement” said Cara Hart, vice president of administrative services at Morton.
Hart insists that the retirement plan changes, announced last October, will save Morton $12 million over six years. While the MNA believes employees could lose between 36 and 50 percent of their savings.
“We sincerely urge the MNA to take these issues into account and focus on moving forward collaboratively, instead of wasting time and resources on spurious legal actions.” Hart said.
Hospital and the nurses union resume negotiations on March 30.
Contact Tim Faulkner at firstname.lastname@example.org