The registered nurses of the Cambridge Hospital campus of the Cambridge Health Alliance have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state against the hospital for its alleged refusal to engage in good faith negotiations on a new contract.
Nurses say they are angered by management’s recent decision to cease talks and declare an impasse after five sessions, while issuing a “last and final” offer last month that included a 40 percent cut to the nurses’ retiree health benefit, the nurses said.
The nurses allege the action violates state labor law, which requires parties to move to mediation and fact-finding prior to seeking a declaration of impasse.
“We are appalled by this blatant and unwarranted disregard for nurses’ legal rights, not to mention the disrespect it shows for the dedicated caregivers who have given so much to this institution,” said Betty Kaloustian, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit, in a statement.
“Under a new federal mandate, the high cost of maintaining the current retiree health benefit for our public employees – a benefit that was offered in an era of lower medical costs and rosier municipal economies – would bankrupt CHA and effectively eliminate all retiree coverage because CHA would not be here to pay for it,” said Cambridge Health Alliance CEO Dennis Keefe in a statement. “Decreasing this cost is key to our survival, and, after careful consideration, we determined we could maintain all the benefits and achieve the savings we needed if we modified the contribution levels.”
Negotiations for a new contract began in May, with a total of five sessions held to date, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The contract expired on June 30.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to come to an agreement with the Cambridge MNA, despite more than 40 hours of intense negotiations and an understanding of the need to complete our talks by June 30, the end of our fiscal year,” said Keefe. “While we’re always willing to consider alternatives, we believed then and now that making this one modification was the best way to deal with an unenviable choice.”
In response to the hospital’s action, the association requested mediation with the State Labor Relations Commission and sought an injunction against CHA from proceeding with the retiree health cuts, the union said. The commission has set a hearing on the charge and the injunction for Thursday at 10 a.m.