News & Events

Nurses picket at HealthAlliance

Read Sentinel and Enterprise article here

By Emily Devlin,
Posted: 04/15/2011 06:32:01 AM EDT

SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / BRETT CRAWFORD HealthAlliance nurses and Massachusetts Nurses Association representatives picket in front of HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster Thursday.

LEOMINSTER — Nurses who have reached an apparent stalemate in negotiations with HealthAlliance Hospital were pumped up while picketing in front of the hospital Thursday.

Many nurses hollered as drivers honked and waved.

"We’re excited for the support we’re receiving from the public," said Jayne Refrigeri, who has spent 36 years as a registered nurse at HealthAlliance.

About 50 people picketed on the sidewalk in front of the hospital on Route 12 yesterday at about 3:30 p.m. Many signs made statements about nurses’ rights to have access to affordable health care.

The informational picket was conducted by off-duty nurses. It was their first in 24 years, and the best ever, according to retired nurse Mary Ellen Ogilvie.

"This is the best turnout and the best backing we’ve received here," Ogilvie said.

She only works per diem a few hours per week, but Ogilvie said she came out Thursday to support the many nurses she said are carrying the health insurance for their families, and under the hospital bargaining unit’s proposed concessions, would have to pay a much larger contribution than they do now.

There are also concerns about patient care, Ogilvie said. The hospital wants to reserve the right to mandate nurses to work up to 12-hour shifts when necessary, she said.

"That’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not the work we’re afraid of. It’s a safety issue for patients," Ogilvie said.

The hospital has proposed increasing the definition of a full-time nurse from 24 hours to 30, meaning those who don’t work 30 hours will have to increase their contributions by 50 percent, according to Natalie Pereira, chairwoman of the nurses union at HealthAlliance.

"I think the public needs to know it’s not about the money. It’s about fair and equitable negotiations," Pereira said.

Mary Lourdes Burke, spokeswoman for HealthAlliance Hospital, said the hospital is willing to try to ease the impact of changes to the health-care plan by offering a phased system where the employee pays more gradually, with no changes in the first year of the contract.

Burke maintained that the proposed changes are fair, and that these days, people are affected by increases in the cost of health care no matter where they work.

"If you’re a full-time employee, you pay a little less, and you pay a little more if you’re part time. I think that’s pretty standard across the country," Burke said.

As for 12-hour shifts, Burke said the hospital has had to resort to those in unusual cases when there aren’t enough nurses to cover all shifts. A number of nurses have been out sick lately, she added. Nurses are paid double time for the extra hours, Burke said.

Thursday’s pickets did not interrupt hospital operations, according to Burke.