News & Events

Want to know why the NARH Nurses are Ready to Strike on Sep. 3rd? Read This Incredible Letter to the Editor from a Long-Time Member

Time for NBH to get real

To the Editor:

It has been my pleasure to be employed as an RN at North Adams Regional Hospital in a variety of staff as well as management positions since my initial date of hire in 1972. The hospital, as well as the community, has been my second home.

In 1976, I voted in favor of the Massachusetts Nurses Association to represent RNs at the bargaining table. Although the process for unionization was foreign to me, the palpable advocacy, support and recognition for the work that nurses do provided the RNs a clear voice at the table. That voice has been evident from the very beginning, focusing on the principles of safety and fairness.

I sat through several of the negotiation sessions this year. Our board presented a two-page document that only proposed that the hospital consider language about staffing ratios and workplace violence. There were no monetary requests other than our merit step increases, because the RNs all recognized the tough economic times our hospital as well as community is facing. In sharp contrast, the hospital made 114 proposals, most of which erode the very language that it took the union 34 years to fine tune. To date, the hospital has not removed any of the proposals and added several more which not only felt frivolous but felt arrogant.

After the mediator and hospital left the table at our last negotiation session, the RNs talked about what actions were important next steps. One colleague felt she could not wear the pin that says "No Take Aways" because she feared the community might think the RNs do not want to negotiate. I went home knowing that I needed to respond to that fear, not only for her, but also for the community.

In 1976, the vote in favor of MNA representation was approved because the maternity nurses wanted to preserve the four-hour part-time positions that allowed nurses with young families to be home with their children. The hospital wanted to eliminate that option in favor of having eight-hour positions to make it easier to schedule staff. We learned early on that "language" was very important to protect the scheduling of RNs.

Our hours of work are still a concern today. The hospital’s out-of-state consultant proposes to "take away" the contract provisions that establish the time a shift begins and ends. They want nurses to be ready and able to work whenever called, to be able to send them home when (ever) they are not needed, and to be able to use mandatory overtime to keep nurses working beyond what is safe for themselves and their patients.

Would you want to work under those conditions? Would you want to be cared for by a nurse required to work under those conditions?

We have children to get ready for school, elder parents and relatives to care for, and other commitments for our time. Are we being unreasonable in trying to maintain contract language around scheduling that for many years has allowed us to care safely for our patients while meeting our personal obligations? There has not been any serious attempt made to negotiate acceptable language to navigate this problem.

I am committed to the hospital and the North Adams community and have been for 38 years. I had all four of my children delivered at the hospital. Every year I donate to the United Way. My name is on the wall in the hospital lobby as a donor. I buy groceries and shop here. I actively support Hospice, Nami-BC and Mass MoCA and yet I live in Wilmington, Vt.

My colleagues are not just your caregivers in the hospital, but they are your neighbors, friends and relatives. They support your schools, churches and enrich your community in immeasurable ways. Our posters say "We are Family" for a reason.

In my 38 years at the hospital, I have never seen nurses face such a threat to their personal, family and professional well-being as I have witnessed in this round of contract negotiations with an out-of state-consultant. Are we being unreasonable in trying to maintain contract language around scheduling that for many years has allowed us to care safely for our patients while meeting our personal obligations?

Let Rick Palmisano and the board of trustees at the hospital know that you support the nurses and that you want the hospital to truly negotiate in order to prevent a strike. It is time for management to get real about these contract negotiations. I and my fellow nurses don’t want to go on strike. We want and need your help.

If all else fails, please join us on the picket line at 6 a.m. on Sept. 3.

Jennifer Fitzgerald,

Wilmington, Vt.