The Vote follows Baystate’s Refusal to Agree to Arbitrate a Settlement and a Complaint Filed by the National Labor Relations Board of Unfair Labor Practices by the Employer
GREENFIELD, Mass — The registered nurses of Baystate Franklin Medical Center cast an overwhelming vote yesterday to authorize a three-day strike in response to Baystate Health’s refusal to engage in a good faith effort to reach a settlement for a new contract, a process that has dragged on for nearly two years and had forced a previous one-day strike by the nurses on Oct. 5, 2012.
“The consensus is that no nurse wants to strike, but, as this vote shows they will if Baystate does not drop its unreasonable demands and continues to refuse to negotiate in good faith,” said Linda Judd, co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit at the hospital.
The key issue preventing a settlement is Baystate Health’s demand to eliminate the requirement that the employer pay overtime for consecutive hours worked beyond the end of an eight, ten or twelve hour shift. The nurses adamantly oppose this practice because they know this protection is in place in all MNA/NNU hospital contracts (which includes 70 percent of the hospitals in Massachusetts) and is a policy at most of the few non-union hospitals as well.
“The nurses have been clear – they want to reduce and eliminate overtime as a staffing tool. By contrast, Baystate simply wants to eliminate overtime pay, which removes the one disincentive from using overtime as a staffing tool,” said Donna Stern, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the bargaining unit. “We will not allow them to place our patients or our nursing license in jeopardy.”
The nurses point out that this is not fundamentally an economic issue. Baystate said two years ago that the total daily overtime costs at BFMC for the RNs was $180,000 on an annual basis. That figure has now dropped to one-third that amount – approximately $60,000 annually. To put that figure in context, the total annual overtime costs for all 200 BFMC RNs is roughly equal to one week of Baystate Health CEO Mark Tolosky’s pay and benefits.
While demanding this concession, the hospital has refused to provide the information required by law to justify their demand, which has resulted in the National Labor Relations Board’s filing of a complaint against the hospital for this and other unfair labor practices. A trial by the NLRB on those complaints will be held on Nov. 18.
For their part, the nurses have made a concerted effort to reach a settlement, working closely with a federal mediator for months of negotiations to reach an equitable agreement, yet the hospital has continued to refuse to back off its demands. Finally on August 22, the MNA committee submitted a comprehensive proposal at negotiations with Baystate, which included a process for resolving the negotiations by both sides submitting their proposals to an independent arbitrator for a final and binding ruling which would bring bargaining to a conclusion. Binding arbitration for the resolution of negotiations is a well-tested procedure commonly used to resolve firefighter and police negotiations. An arbitrator takes into consideration such factors as industry standards, comparability within the profession, the employer’s financial standing, along with both parties’ arguments supporting their respective positions.
“We would be more than willing to forgo a strike if Baystate would agree to binding interest arbitration,” said Judd. “We have had pickets, rallies, and a strike, and have so much support from both our community and our elected officials. On behalf of our community we propose this as a way to bring these negotiations to a close. We are confident in the reasonableness of our position, but in any event, we are willing to live with a neutral arbitrator’s ruling in order to bring negotiations to a conclusion. The refusal by the hospital to submit their proposals for independent review speaks volumes and underscores why the nurses have taken a vote to authorize a strike.”
The vote to authorize a strike involved the 209 registered nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United at BFMC and was held all day and into the night at the first Congregational Church in Greenfield. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committees the authorization to call a three-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. Once the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital would then have 10 days before the nurses would go out on strike.
There has been an outpouring of support for nurses’ collective bargaining rights over the last year. At the Democratic State Convention held in Springfield last summer, the convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution calling on Baystate to conduct good faith negotiations with the MNA nurses and 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 Baystate Franklin Medical Center 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 at BFMC.
“The nurses appreciate the deep and broad community and political support that has been shown across Franklin County,” Stern added, “and we ask all Franklin County residents to call on Baystate to work with the nurses to avoid a needless strike.”