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Nurses and supporters protest Baystate’s ‘hospital of the future’ as contract talks stall

Nurses and supporters protest Baystate’s ‘hospital of the future’ as contract talks stall

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 11:15 AM     Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 12:31 PM

By Conor Berry, The Republican


Staff photo by Don TreegerUnion activists and Massachusetts Nurses Association members picket outside Baystate Medical Center’s new "Hospital of the Future" on Tuesday morning.

SPRINGFIELD – In just a few days, Baystate Health will be wheeling its first patient through the doors of the so-called "hospital of the future," a nearly $300 million, 640,000-square-foot expansion of Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center.

But on Tuesday, a group of nurses were more concerned about holding onto their jobs for the future, claiming that Baystate Health System officials made "unreasonable concessionary demands" and engaged in union-busting tactics during contract negotiations that broke down earlier this month.

"They’re rabidly anti-union," Joseph A. Twarog, an officer with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said of Baystate Health, which was dealt a blow when Cooley Dickinson Hospital voted Monday to merge with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston rather than with the Springfield-based health network.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) represents registered nurses employed by Baystate Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice and Baystate Franklin Medical Center, the latter of which recently reached an agreement with management.

Jane S. Albert, Baystate’s director of public relations, said 55 visiting nurses are refusing to accept two points that already apply to the rest of Baystate’s 10,000 employees: the Baystate Attendance Policy and a benefit package called Choice Benefits. And, she added, charges of unfair labor practices brought by the union have been dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board.

Even so, at least 100 people were expected to participate in Tuesday’s protest, according to Twarog, adding that buses carrying picketers from Northampton, Greenfield, Worcester and beyond were expected to arrive in Springfield today.

Twarog said Baystate’s management team continues to "strip away" the collective bargaining rights of nurses, "and that’s why we’re upset."

"Cooley-Dick did the right thing," he said, referring to the Northampton hospital’s decision to forgo a partnership with Baystate in favor of a merger with Mass. General, which is part of Partners HealthCare System Inc.

Chris Clark, an 11-year member of the Visiting Nurses Association, said Baystate’s contract proposals would ruin the ability to negotiate an equitable contract for nurses, compromising their futures as caregivers throughout the greater Springfield area.

"We have been in negotiations for over a year now with Baystate, but to no avail," said Clark, who joined dozens of others outside the hospital’s Springfield Street entrance on Tuesday morning.

"It’s my passion, being a visiting nurse," she said. "All we want is for a contract. They’re trying to bust our union; that’s become very clear."

Donna Stern, a nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, said it was important for nurses to retain their collective bargaining rights. "We are not out to embarrass Baystate," she said in remarks posted on the Massachusetts Nurses Association website.

Stern claimed Baystate made $61 million in the last fiscal year and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on "bricks and mortar" while "attacking the caregivers who have the greatest impact on your health and safety."

Picketers carried signs declaring "Bargain Don’t Bully," "Jobs with Justice" and "Stop the War on Workers," among other slogans. Members of Local 2322 of the United Autoworkers Union also showed up to lend their support to the protest.

Twarog said more actions are planned. "Oh no, we’re not done. We’re going to do more," he said.