PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Berkshire Medical Center nurses and supporters from throughout Berkshire County will hold a rally in front of the hospital on Tuesday, Oct. 24 as nurses continue to fight for a fair contract that ensures safe patient care and provides nurses with affordable, quality health insurance.
What: A Unity Rally and informational picket featuring BMC nurses, elected officials, union
allies and members of the community.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: In front of the main entrance of Berkshire Medical Center at 725 North St. in Pittsfield
“We are together in this fight with our community until we secure the improvements our patients need,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. “We went on strike and got locked out not just for our current patients but for future patients as well. Nurses were willing to give up our time, sacrifice family obligations, and forgo our paychecks to make sure patients we do not even know yet will get the care they deserve.”
Background on Bargaining
The nearly 800 registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, held a one-day strike beginning at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3 and running until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4. Nurses want to return to the bargaining table quickly and are working with a federal mediator to schedule dates.
Negotiations began in September 2016 and include a federal mediator. On May 31, nurses rejected the hospital’s “best and final” contract offer by 82 percent. In July, nurses voted 83 percent to authorize a potential one-day strike.
BMC refused to allow its own nurses back into the hospital on Wednesday morning, Oct. 4 after their 24-hour strike ended. Nurses were ready to return to caring for their patients after advocating for them and a fair contract. The hospital said instead it would pay for replacement nurses from outside the community. The MNA is seeking information from the employer to obtain evidence that this is retaliatory and therefore unlawful and has filed an unfair labor practice charge over the issue.
BMC Nurses Fighting for Safe Patient Care
A pattern of BMC nurses being assigned too many patients to care for at one time, or not having enough support staff, has been jeopardizing safe patient care at the hospital for years. Nurses with unsafe patient assignments may not notice minute-to-minute changes in their patients’ conditions, recognize the signs of an impending crisis, or have time to educate patients about how to take their medications at home.
BMC nurses and other staff have brought their patient care concerns forward to BMC management in various ways over the last several years, including directly to supervisors, at labor-management meetings and during ongoing negotiations.
BMC RNs have also been documenting this problem using unsafe staffing forms. Between October 1, 2015 and Oct. 18, 2017, nurses completed 462 unsafe staffing reports. The forms are a tool used by the nurses to document to management any time they are confronted with care conditions that in their professional judgment places their patients’ safety in jeopardy. Read the reports here.
Quality, Affordable Health Insurance
BMC nurses have repeatedly requested data from BMC that the MNA needs to analyze the hospital’s self-insurance rates as part of a proposal to create an additional “employee +” or “employee plus children” health insurance option. Citing management’s months-long refusal to provide the information, RNs filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against BMC in August. Health insurance is a mandatory subject of bargaining under federal labor law.
BMC has proposed doubling the price nurses pay each month for individual health premiums. Nurses in BMC’s family health insurance plans already pay 40 to 70 percent more than managers. BMC has also refused to consider any plan design, cost sharing, rates or co-payments other than what management first demanded at the beginning of negotiations nearly a year ago.
Berkshire Health Finances
BMC is highly profitable and its parent company Berkshire Health Systems is the dominant health care provider in Berkshire County. Over the last five years, BMC has made a profit of more than $207 million, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. In 2016 alone, BMC posted a profit of $47.2 million. That is a margin of 9.7% – more than three times the state and regional averages of 3%, making it a real outlier among profitable hospitals. Read the CHIA BMC data here.
Despite this, Berkshire Health executives have repeatedly told nurses that BMC does not have the resources to make significant improvements to patient care. Yet they have managed to find extra revenue to fund large executive salaries. In 2015, CEO David Phelps’ compensation was $863,000 and the top ten executives took home more than $5 million in salary and other 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.