From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
July/August 2013 Edition
|Greenfield-area citizens showed their support for Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses at a July 25 rally.|
The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees laws governing collective bargaining and worker’s rights, has issued a complaint against Baystate Franklin Medical Center. The complaint is based on Baystate management’s attempts to illegally restrict union activity among the hospital’s 209 nurses who are members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU), and Baystate’s refusal to provide information in the course of negotiations with the MNA. The NLRB has scheduled a hearing on the complaint for Oct. 2.
The nurses at BFMC have been in contract negotiations for 18 months with Baystate management. The first part of the complaint regards communications from hospital managers to nurses during the period of a one-day strike last October. In those communications nurses were instructed that they were not to discuss any union matters in any areas of the hospital including hallways, nurses’ stations and the hospital cafeteria. This is a clear violation of employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
“It was clear to us that Baystate was attempting to break the law to silence nurses, who were only exercising their right to advocate for ourselves and our patients,” said Linda Judd, RN, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the MNA/NNU bargaining unit for BFMC. “We are pleased that the NLRB has validated our position and supports our effort to exercise our rights under the law.”
The second part of the complaint is based on Baystate’s refusal to provide information regarding proposals they have made in the course of negotiations. A central issue in the negotiations and behind the nurses’ strike is the nurses’ desire to end the practice of nurses having to work excessive hours beyond their shift as a result of the hospital’s failure to provide appropriate and safe RN staffing levels. Academic and medical journals have published numerous studies that show when nurses work beyond the length of their normal shift (usually eight, 10 or 12 hours) the likelihood of errors increases and patient safety is put at risk. One of the current contractual provisions to curb extended shifts is the requirement that any work beyond the end of the shift is paid at an overtime rate. Baystate continues to insist on eliminating the overtime protection for working beyond the shift’s end. In making its demand for this concession, Baystate management has claimed that this is the “industry standard practice for overtime,” yet has repeatedly refused to respond to the MNA/NNU’s many requests for factual information to support its position, which precipitated the NLRB’s complaint against the hospital.
“Management is illegally withholding information while
demanding that we accept dangerous working conditions,
which we cannot do.”
The nurses adamantly oppose this practice because they know this protection is in place in all MNA/NNU hospital contracts (which include 70 percent of the hospitals in Massachusetts) and is a policy at most of the state’s few non-union hospitals as well.
Nurses at BFMC fear that eliminating this curb on management’s behavior would result in far more instances of nurses being required to work extended shifts since the economic disincentive would be removed. “This issue is of great importance to both nurses and patients, because an exhausted nurse cannot provide safe patient care,” said Donna Stern, RN, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the local bargaining unit at BFMC. “Our management is illegally withholding information while demanding that we nurses accept dangerous working conditions, which we cannot do.”
This NLRB complaint follows an NLRB intervention last summer, when Baystate management unlawfully declared an impasse in negotiations with the nurses at Baystate Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice in Springfield. Because of the NLRB’s intervention, Baystate rescinded its declaration of impasse and returned to negotiations. However, an additional set of charges related to bad-faith bargaining are now being filed by the MNA nurses at that Baystate facility.
There has been an outpouring of support for nurses’ collective bargaining rights over the last year. At last summer’s Democratic State Convention in Springfield, the delegates unanimously passed a resolution calling on Baystate to conduct good faith negotiations with the MNA nurses and to come to a fair agreement. The Greenfield City Council passed a similar resolution last year. Thousands of Franklin County residents have signed a petition of support for the BFMC nurses and delegations of community supporters and elected officials have called on Baystate to avoid further conflict and settle a fair contract with the nurses.