News & Events

Final ruling finds Cambridge Hospital violated state labor law

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2010 Edition

In a complete victory for the nurses of Cambridge Hospital, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) issued its final ruling in late August, finding that Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) violated state labor law by bargaining in bad faith and depriving nurses of their union rights. The ruling followed CHA’s decision to prematurely cease negotiations, declaring impasse and unilaterally slashing nurses’ retiree health benefit. CERB also flatly rejected the hospital’s claim that it was eligible for an exception in this particular case, due to “externally imposed” and “economic” circumstances beyond their control.

In finding against CHA, the CERB issued an order calling upon the hospital to post a notice to all employees, stating that they broke the law “by unilaterally implementing changes to retiree health insurance contribution rates without satisfying the bargaining obligation set forth in M.G.L c 150E, Section 9 (public sector labor law).” The order further states that CHA will:

  • Restore all terms of the retiree health insurance benefit for all MNA bargaining unit members in effect prior to the Alliance’s unilateral change.
  • Participate in good faith collective bargaining procedures, including mediation, fact-finding, or arbitration, if applicable, as set forth in Section 9 of the law.
  • Make whole employees for economic losses suffered, if any, as a direct result of the Alliance’s actions, plus interest or any sums owed.

“We are thrilled and vindicated by the Board’s ruling,” said Betty Kaloustian, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit. “The board got it right. Our employer had an obligation to negotiate with us and they chose not to. Unfortunately, the hospital’s actions have had a devastating impact on those nurses who they were trying to force to retire, not to mention the impact on all the other nurses who were seeing their benefits slashed. We are appalled at the lack of respect shown to those nurses who have given their hearts and souls to this institution.”

“The law could not be more clear on this point, and we are amazed that this public employer tried to claim otherwise,” said Julie Pinkham, RN and executive director of the MNA. “While this case is settled, we can only hope those who made these unlawful decisions are held accountable for the financial cost involved in creating this crisis, as well as for the impact these actions will have on the nurses’ trust in the CHA administration going forward.”

The registered nurses of the Cambridge Hospital campus of CHA, who are represented by the MNA, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the CERB against the hospital on July 1 for its refusal to engage in good faith negotiations with the nurses in their effort to reach agreement on a new union contract. A preliminary hearing before the CERB was held on July 8. The CERB issued a complaint against CHA on July 12 and the formal hearing on the complaint was held on Aug. 11.

At the hearing, the MNA argued that this was a simple case involving a blatant violation of nurses’ rights, as the Cambridge Health Alliance declared an impasse after only five sessions and without first participating in the legally required process of mediation and fact-finding. Subsequent to the decision, the hospital implemented a 40 percent cut to the nurses retiree health benefit and forced the nurses to put in papers for retirement by July 31 if they wanted to retire with the current benefit. In response, the MNA argued for an expedited decision by the Board to prevent implementation of the CHA retirement cuts, as nurses would suffer harm by being forced to retire early.

On Aug. 18, the CERB issued an initial ruling in favor of the union, but scheduled a hearing two days later to provide the hospital with an opportunity to prove its claim that they are eligible for an exception in this particular case, due to “externally imposed” and “economic” circumstances beyond their control. In its final ruling, the CERB found no reasonable justification or evidence that supported CHA’s actions.