“We never wanted to come to this point but with Baystate Health Systems refusing to negotiate in good faith and refusing to compromise, we have no choice,” said Linda Judd, senior co-chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and National Nurses United bargaining unit.
A favorable vote would not mark the immediate start of a strike, but would give the negotiating committee the authorization to strike if and when it fees it is necessary.
“We have been at the table for months and Baystate keeps insisting we give up our rights to negotiate over wages and health insurance,” said Judd. “These negotiations are not about money, they are about the existence of our union. If we give up our collective bargaining rights we give up our union.”
Amy Swisher, Baystate Franklin’s director of public and community relations, said Thursday the hospital will continue to negotiate with the union with hopes of a resolution.
“We would like to settle the contract with the MNA as soon as possible, and have continued to bargain in good faith to try to come to an agreement,” she said. “We are refraining from public comment on specific contract items, instead reserving that discussion for the bargaining table.”
The strike authorization vote has been scheduled to take place throughout the day and into the evening on Thursday. The votes will be counted after the voting ends at 9 p.m. and the results will be announced that evening.
Once the negotiation committee gets authorization to issue a strike, it can do so at any time. If the committee officially decides to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses act.
The union represents about 200 nurses who work full or part time at the High Street facility.
Nurses have said that after the first year of a new contract, hospital administrators want to extend the same wage increases that it does to all other hospital employees. This would mean the nurses would lose their right to negotiate wage increases in the future, the union said.
According to nurses, the hospital wants to only grant overtime pay beginning when nurses work the 41st hour of a work week.
Nurses said they are rarely scheduled to work more than 36 hours in a week, but they sometimes work as many as 16 hours in a day to cover shifts or holes in the schedule, the union said.
The union wants to choose its own health insurance and change the hospital’s sick policy.
Currently, the hospital begins issuing verbal and written warnings after a nurse takes his or her fourth sick day, and this can eventually lead to termination, the nurses said. The union would prefer that the hospital use discretion rather than issue an automatic “one-size-fits-all” disciplinary action.
Chris Shores can be reached at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264