News & Events

MNA establishes multiemployer defined benefit pension plan; nurses everywhere stand to benefit

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
November/December 2010 Edition

MNA nurses ratify landmark agreement with former Caritas Network

The MNA and Caritas Christi Health Care, the state’s second largest health care network, announced in October the ratification of a landmark master agreement, involving nearly 1,700 registered nurses working at four facilities including Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Norwood Hospital in Norwood and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. The centerpiece of the agreement is the creation of a Taft-Hartley, multiemployer defined benefit pension fund for the nurses, the first of its kind for RNs in Massachusetts, which will provide lifetime retirement security for nurses at a time when other employers are cutting, freezing or attempting to eliminate pension benefits.

The five-year agreement also includes a market-leading expansion of the nurses’ paid time off benefits, a generous early retirement package and a commitment by the MNA and Caritas to form a strategic alliance to address issues of quality care, with the proviso that both parties will soon work out a “neutrality” agreement to allow other nurses working at non-union Caritas facilities the opportunity to organize a union with the MNA if they so choose. Because of the paid time off benefit, nurses will be awarded between two and five extra days off per year, depending on their years of service, and will be able to cash out up to 80 hours of paid time off per year. The parties also negotiated hospital-specific contracts for each of the four MNA bargaining units, which address a number of nursing practice concerns that will improve patient care.

“We are pleased that Caritas has made a concerted effort to recognize and reward the nurses at their facilities for the contributions they make now and into the future,” said Julie Pinkham, RN, executive director of the MNA. “The creation of a multiemployer defined benefit pension fund has been a long standing goal of the MNA. I credit the senior leadership of Caritas who have the vision and leadership to address the pension issue for nurses, providing them an opportunity to retire with dignity after a career of caring for their patients, bucking the trend of many employers who are seeking concessions simply because they feel the climate will allow for it.” In addition to the pension benefit, each of the facilities was able to negotiate wage increases, with the provision of ratification bonuses of 2 percent at each hospital and across-the-board pay increases of up to 2 percent for all bargaining units in 2011, an additional 2 percent per year in 2012 and another 2 percent for three of the bargaining units in 2013, with a salary re-opener for all four hospitals in 2014. In addition, the nurses will maintain their stepped salary scales, which award nurses an additional 3.5 to 5 percent raise for each year of clinical experience at their respective facility.

“We at Good Samaritan Medical Center are thrilled with the fact that all the Caritas hospitals were able to secure a master agreement that provides a five-year period of stability for our system, which will allow us to continue to care for our communities and to fulfill our mission of taking care of all patients, from Park Avenue to the park bench,” said Karen Gavigan, co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit.

The pension, dubbed the “The Nurses Pension Fund,” will augment the hospital’s existing 403(b) defined contribution plan, which Caritas had frozen last year, causing great concern for the nurses. As a Taft-Hartley pension fund, representatives of the MNA and the participating Caritas facilities will jointly administer the new plan. Caritas has agreed to establish the fund in 2012 by investing 4 percent of each nurse’s annual earnings into the plan, and will raise that contribution to 5 percent per year in 2013. Under the plan, when nurses retire they will be guaranteed a defined benefit, a set monthly payment for the rest of their lives. Nurses have no obligation to contribute to the defined benefit plan, but if they choose, they can participate in a 401(k) plan to bolster further their retirement savings.

“We have made history with this agreement,” said Betsy Prescott, RN, chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at St. Elizabeth’s.  “We have achieved language that supports safer staffing levels on our units, and the creation of a multiemployer pension will not only provide retirement security of our nurses but will also open the door for other nurses throughout the state to eventually become part of this fund. The nurses at St. Elizabeth’s are thrilled with this settlement.”

For the MNA, which crafted the plan with Segal & Co., one of the nation’s leading pension consulting firms, the creation of the new multiemployer plan allows for the MNA and the Caritas leadership to work on expanding the plan to include other MNA local bargaining units outside of the Caritas system.

“We are not only solidifying the retirements of the nurses at Caritas with this agreement,” Pinkham explained, “but laying the ground work for the development of real pension benefit that we hope to make available to thousands of nurses across the state. This pension provides a vehicle, not only for the MNA, but also for all employers to be able to provide an important benefit for their nurses, at a lower cost and with less risk than if they were trying to manage such a plan on their own. Everyone wins here.”

“We believe this agreement sets a standard for other employers to follow in providing a secure retirement for nurses who contribute so much to the success of a hospital and the care of patients,” said Elaine Graves, chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at Carney Hospital.

Finally, the nurses were able to address a number of other nursing and patient care issues in their respective agreements, which improve the quality and safety of care patients receive. At St. Elizabeth’s, the nurses negotiated staffing language that creates a committee of nurses and management to review and address staffing needs, while limiting the assignments of charge nurses, who are responsible for assuring the appropriate flow of patients through the system. The Carney Hospital nurses were also able to negotiate improvements in their staffing procedures, including protections for inappropriate “floating” of nurses, which is the practice of moving nurses between units to cover for staffing shortages. The Norwood Hospital nurses also formed a staffing committee to help ensure safe patient care, and have created a group to focus on preventing incidents of workplace violence at the hospital, a significant problem in health care today, as nurses are assaulted on the job as much as police officers and prison guards.

“This agreement has given the staff of our hospital great hope for the future, and it provides a means of addressing the issue of workplace violence, which is a growing problem, not only for our members, but for all nurses,” said Joan Ballantyne, RN, co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at Norwood Hospital. “All of us will benefit from this agreement.”