News & Events

Registered Nurses Picket Cooley Dickinson Hospital

After More Than a Year of Negotiations Nurses Call for Safe Staffing Directly To the Community

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NORTHAMPTON, MA — The Registered Nurses of Cooley Dickinson Hospital today returned to a picket line for the second time in three months. The informational picket line was organized as a sign of the growing frustration by the nurses over a number of issues, including the need for safer staffing levels, protection of their pension benefit and a provision to guarantee their union rights and union contract by the new owner of the hospital, which is scheduled to be announced shortly. The RNs, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been at the table for fifteen months and have seen little movement from management on these vital issues which dramatically impact the quality of their work and the safety of their patients.

“We have a proposal to establish safer staffing levels for all the different units in the hospital,” said Unit Co-Chair Sally Surgen, RN. “Under our proposal nurses would only be assigned the number of patients they can safely care for at one time. No less than 40 recently published research studies have proven that quality and safety of patient care rapidly declines the more patients a nurse is assigned at one time. We see this as a battle to protect our patients.”

Over the last few years the nurses have seen layoffs and staff reductions that have stretched the nurse’s ability to deliver the quality of care that the community deserves. “The staff reductions have had a very direct impact on patients. It is not only nursing positions but also aides, secretaries and all the other support staff that have been reduced. Nurses now are being asked to do more with less, and it is having an effect on our practice,” said Surgen.

The hospital administrators have countered with a proposal to set up a “Staffing Committee.” The nurses have rejected this proposal because the committee would have no power to rectify difficult staffing situations, whereas the nurse’s proposal calls for a procedure to resolve disputes.

The 236 RNs of the bargaining unit continue to be concerned that at the present time they do not have a successor clause in their contract. A successor clause would guarantee that any new owner of the hospital would be required to recognize the nurses’ union and to honor their union contract. “In the past we never worried about the clause because many of us have spent our entire careers working for our community hospital. Now it seems that era is over and it is very important that we have language in our contract to protect our rights, including our right to speak up for our patients,” said Surgen. The hospital has publicly stated they plan to announce who they will merge with in February.

Another key issue for the nurses is the hospital’s continued attack on the RNs defined benefit pension plan. Two years ago the hospital unilaterally ended the pension plan without negotiations. The MNA subsequently won an arbitration and the hospital had to reinstate the plan and make the nurses whole. Now the hospital has a proposal to limit the plan by not offering it to newly hired RNs. “We view this as a huge concession,’ said Surgen. “Those nurses who came before us fought for this benefit and we will not sell it out for those who will follow us. We also view this as an attempt to divide our bargaining unit.”

The nurses went on the picket line today as a way to inform their neighbors that these issues have a very direct effect on the care delivered at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. “We want the community to know that we are concerned about what is happening at the hospital. As we go through the sale of the hospital the best way to retain out rights and the highest quality of care at our community hospital is for the nurses to gain an equitable contract,” said Surgen.