PITTSFIELD – The registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, voted overwhelmingly on July 17 and July 26 to authorize a one-day strike as they seek a fair agreement with BMC that ensures nurse staffing levels that protect safe patient care and allow quality life and working conditions for RNs. Of the eligible 627 nurses, 83 percent voted to authorize the one-day strike. The 85 percent turnout was the highest ever for BMC nurses.
“Berkshire Medical Center nurses are standing up together for our patients, our colleagues and our community because we care,” said Alex Neary, RN co-chair of the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee. “We have been working hard to negotiate a fair agreement with our hospital since last September. BMC has refused to be held accountable for safe nurse staffing levels that protect our patients, even as we have made numerous reasonable proposals and overwhelmingly rejected the hospital’s ‘best and final offer.’ This strike authorization vote shows that BMC nurses are united for safe patient care.”
The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee authorization to call a one-day strike if and when it is necessary. If the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have at least 10 days before the nurses will go out on strike.
BMC nurses have been negotiating a new contract to replace their contract that was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2016 since September 2016. There have been more than 20 negotiation session held to date, most recently with a federal mediator. The next session is scheduled for August 1.
An overwhelming majority of MNA nurses at BMC also voted to reject management’s “best and final” offer on May 31 by a margin of 82 percent. This included an absolute majority of all eligible union members casting votes to reject – record turnout among MNA BMC nurses.
“Our nurses are telling BMC loud and clear to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair agreement,” said Gerri Jakacky, RN co-chair of the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee. “BMC nurses care deeply for our patients. Hospital administrators know this and have taken advantage, routinely pushing nurses beyond our ability to provide safe patient care. Without enough RNs and other team members available corners get cut, communication gets lost, and key aspects of patient care get missed. Patient and family education is sidelined. Call lights go unanswered. This is why BMC nurses are fighting for safe staffing – because we care.”
Key RN Issues
Safe Staffing to Protect Patient Care
· This means having enough registered nurses and other staff to ensure safe patient assignments. When nurses have too many patients at one time, patient care suffers.
· Having too many patients to care for at one time makes it very difficult for nurses to give the same high-quality care to each patient. For example: It is difficult to get patients medications on time, discharge patients efficiently, admit them every time they need a bed, and provide enough education so they and their families know how to take care of themselves when they go home.
· Ideally, BMC would make safe staffing its top priority. But despite the hospital’s public statements, nurses see every day that the hospital administration is failing to prioritize safe staffing. BMC has yet to even agree to modest staffing language in the RN contract such as not making RN staffing worse and reducing or eliminating patient assignments for charge nurses.
A “charge nurse” is responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she or he has a patient assignment or an inappropriately high patient assignment, the charge nurse is not able to effectively supervise and assist other nurses. This nurse should be managing the flow of patients, be on hand to assist less experienced nurses with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments when staff become overburdened.
Affordable, Quality Health Insurance
· Nurses already pay more than doctors and hospital executives for their health insurance – 40 to 70 percent more for nurses in family plans.
· BMC wants nurses to pay even more, to the extent that even after a small pay raise, many nurses would be making less than they are today because the cost of their health insurance will increase so much.
· Nurses are rejecting the hospital’s proposal to hike health costs and instead offering modest improvements to health insurance options and contributions to make quality health care more accessible for nurses and their families.
· In 2015 (the most recent tax data available), BMC made a profit of $46.4 million, with a profit margin of 10.2% (compared with the state average of 3.7%). BMC earned $31.2 million in profit in 2016, according to BMC’s own audited financial reporting. Between 2011 and 2015, the hospital made a total profit of $181 million.
· In 2015, Berkshire Health CEO David Phelps made $755K. In 2013, on top of his salary of $579,649, BMC paid $1,878,328 toward Phelps’ retirement benefits.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is 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.
Associate Director, Division of Communication
Massachusetts Nurses Association
781-830-5783 – office
781-571-8175 – cell