News & Events

North Adams Transcript Editorial Supports the Nurses as Strike Looms

Health care dilemma

North Adams Transcript

Posted: 08/21/2010 12:52:58 AM EDT

While the impasse between Northern Berkshire Healthcare management and the registered nurses’ union at North Adams Regional Hospital may be more complicated than the public perceives, there is no doubting the sincerity of the nurses’ belief that Rick Palmisano and company are out to bust their union.

According to the nurses, Mr. Palmisano, the company’s president and CEO, pointedly said so the last time he sat down personally to negotiate with them more than two years ago. And the high-priced lawyer now doing management’s negotiations certainly advertises himself as a union-buster.

Whether you like unions or not — and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t — if you’re in one, you certainly want to preserve it. So the nurses are fighting that fight, girding for a Sept. 3 strike unless management can come through with an 11th-hour agreement in a negotiating session that starts Aug. 31.

The nurses note that RNs at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield — whose parent company, Berkshire Health Systems may merge or affiliate with our hospital — have preserved their union and negotiated a contract, even through these troubled economic times.

The nurses aren’t foolish or blind: They know that BMC let go 124 employees earlier this month, including 20 registered nurses, after cutting 130 jobs last year to offset operating losses. They know that hospitals throughout Massachusetts and the country are struggling. They also know an affiliation with Berkshire Health Systems would likely result in some consolidated and centralized services that would mean the loss of some — perhaps many — jobs here in North Berkshire. They apparently are prepared to accept those losses in order to preserve their union and their contract.

Another thing is quite clear: They are hurt by the impersonal, corporate-minded turn negotiations have taken in recent years. Gone are the days of hospital administrators sitting at the table with union leaders and discussing their differences and needs, co-worker to co-worker, neighbor to neighbor. However one feels about this contract dispute and unions in general, a more personable approach might work wonders. If management were to approach the nurses as fellow employees, not as faceless numbers, it might go a long way toward getting this thing settled.

At this point, anything is worth a try, as Northern Berkshire Healthcare is faced with spending a huge amount of money it can’t afford on replacement workers to cope with the potential strike. We can only imagine the lingering bitterness that would ensue. Meanwhile, our community hospital hangs in the balance. Let’s get this dispute settled and behind us, so we can fight the fight all of us need to gird for: saving North Adams Regional Hospital.