CANTON, Mass. – Six Boston City Councilors have issued a letter to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) President Dr. Betsy Nabel calling for the hospital to offer a fair contract settlement as the 17 elected Brigham nurses who bargain on behalf of their 3,300 fellow nurses return to the bargaining table on Friday, June 17 ahead of the largest nurse strike in Massachusetts history
“We have heard from Brigham nurses about their concerns and believe what they are seeking is reasonable,” the councilors said in their letter. “Over nine months of negotiations, Brigham nurses report that the hospital and Partners HealthCare have imposed staffing shortfalls that impact patient safety, proposed two-tier benefit and health insurance programs and offered unfair wage proposals.”
City Councilors Josh Zakim and Matt O’Malley, whose districts include BWH facilities, were joined in writing the letter by the four at-large councilors; Annissa Essaibi-George, Michael Flaherty, Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu.
In what will be the first strike by nurses in Boston in 30 years, the 3,300 registered nurses of BWH will go on strike Monday, June 27 unless the hospital and billionaire owner Partners agree to a fair contract that values safe patient care and every Brigham nurse over corporate profits.
Brigham nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), voted overwhelmingly on June 13 to authorize a 24-hour strike. On Tuesday morning, the 17-member BWH RN bargaining committee informed the hospital about the strike date, providing more notice than the 10 days required by law. A federal mediator on Tuesday scheduled the next bargaining session between both parties. Nurses are finalizing the location of the session, scheduled for Friday, June 17.
The 24-hour strike is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on June 27 and will include nurses at the main hospital campus in the Longwood area of Boston, along with BWH facilities in Foxborough, Newton, Jamaica Plain and Chestnut Hill.
“We have reached the point where the hospital does not value and respect patients and nurses,” said Trish Powers, RN OR staff nurse and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association BWH bargaining unit. “Under corporate owner Partners HealthCare, the Brigham cares more about profits and executive pay than providing safe patient care and treating its nurses fairly. We are prepared to strike, unless the hospital returns to the bargaining table and offers a fair settlement.”
In a unified show of strength, 2,460 nurses cast ballots Monday, June 13 with the nurses voting 2,345 to 115 (95 percent) in favor of the strike authorization – the largest nurses’ strike vote in Massachusetts history. On Tuesday, Brigham nurses updated lawmakers at the State House about the potential strike. Nurses told members of the Boston delegation that they are fighting to protect safe patient care and ensure a secure working environment, equal nurse benefits and a fair wage.
“This strike boils down to value and respect,” said Kelly Morgan, a labor and delivery nurse and vice chair of the MNA BWH bargaining unit. “The hospital and Partners are not valuing and respecting patients or nurses. How can we have safe patient care and a safe, respectful working environment if the Brigham values profits over people?”
BWH has said it plans to hire 700 temporary nurses to provide patient care during a potential strike. The hospital does not mention in its public messaging about temporary nurses that there are 3,300 unionized nurses at the Brigham, nor does it tell the public how unrealistic it is that these 700 replacement nurses could make up for the temporary loss of the 3,300 Brigham nurses.
Nurses at the Brigham are highly trained in specialized care areas, ensuring the safety of some of the sickest patients in the region. They walk the halls of the hospital every day. They know and have worked with the physicians at the hospital and cared for their patients for years. They know the Brigham’s equipment and operating systems and they are trusted by their colleagues.
The hospital has said that if there is a strike, they anticipate it will last five days. That is misleading. Brigham nurses are voting to authorize a one-day strike. They plan to walkout and not work for one 24-hour period in protest of the hospital and Partners failing to provide a fair contract settlement offer. The hospital has responded by threatening to lock out nurses for four days following the potential strike day. If the hospital locks out nurses when they try to return to their patients after one day, it will be solely the hospital’s decision. BWH administrators have said the lockout would be motivated, in part, by “economic reasons.”
Key outstanding issues:
Safe Staffing TICU/NICU Care
The hospital has reduced nurse staffing in the thoracic step-down unit. This unit treats patients who have had lung transplants, heated chemotherapy and other serious procedures. These complex patients require constant, vigilant nursing care to prevent potentially life-threatening complications. The MNA’s proposal is to ensure safe nurse staffing levels in the thoracic unit.
The hospital has also attempted to implement smart phones in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) without input from staff nurses. These phones will take nurses away from the bedside, where they should be providing direct care to some of the sickest babies in the region. They would be used to forward alarms to a succession of nurses, resulting in potentially devastating delays in care. Nurses have posed a number of questions about these phones, which have not been fully answered. Serious concerns remain.
Equal Benefits for all Nurses
The hospital is seeking to force all newly hired nurses into lesser benefit programs. These proposals are an attempt to union bust by removing the ability of nurses to collectively negotiate their health benefits and by creating a two-tiered benefit system for nurses.
Flex insurance is a hospital-controlled health insurance program not subject to bargaining. Six years ago, the hospital lured nurses in with low rates and then part-time nurses saw their premiums double to quadruple in just one year.
Benefit time provides eight fewer days off per year than the traditional time-off system. It also takes away nurses’ choice on when and how to use different types of time off and forces them to use days they may not have otherwise used when taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The hospital is offering only a 1% across-the-board increase over three years for all nurses and 0.5% to nurses at the top of the salary scale. This offer is far below other recent settlements that MNA nurses have reached with Partners.
At Newton-Wellesley Hospital, nurses and the hospital agreed to a 2% across-the-board salary increase over 30 months, with an additional 2% to nurses at the top of the scale.
At Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, nurses and the hospital agreed to a 2% across-the-board increase over 24 months, with an additional 2% to nurses at the top of the scale. Dana-Farber’s CEO made $1.5 million in fiscal year 2014, far less than the $2.4 million BWH CEO Dr. Betsy Nabel made that year – not including payment she received for multiple outside positions, as reported by the Boston Globe.
Partners made profits of more than $600 million in FY2014. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profits, including nearly $100 million stashed in off-shore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. BWH itself made $152 million in profits in 2014
A non-profit like Partners should be investing this fortune in health care for the communities it serves and in the employees who provide that care. Instead, Partners uses its enormous profits to enrich its top executives. The five highest paid Partners executives got a nearly $1.3 million combined pay hike from 2013 to 2014, equaling a 23 percent increase in salaries.
“Brigham nurses provide life-saving care every day and deserve a fair wage increase,” Powers said. “It is irresponsible that a hospital reaping enormous profits refuses to offer a fair wage increase to nurses while trying to create a two-tiered, union-busting benefit system.”
Nurses have been negotiating since September 2015 to reach an agreement to replace the contract that was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2015. They have participated in 19 bargaining sessions to date. The last session was June 1. The next session is scheduled for Friday, June 17.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest professional health care organization and the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public. The MNA is a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses’ union in the United States with more than 170,000 members from coast to coast.