In the wake of months, and sometimes years of the failure by Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center (SEMC) at least 21 aspects of the nurses’ union contract, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) has filed a sweeping and unprecedented 21-count charge of unfair labor practices against the hospital management with the National Labor Relations Board – violations that can compromise nurses’ ability to deliver appropriate patient care and the ability to recruit and retain needed nursing staff.
The 777 registered nurses at St. Elizabeth’s for years have had a union contract they have negotiated with Steward Healthcare, with the most recent version negotiated and ratified in 2018, yet Steward has failed to meet the dictates of up to 21 different aspects of the contract, including key patient care-oriented provisions addressing nurse staffing levels and the proper utilization of charge nurses for the care of patients on specific units. There are several charges related to the payment of nurses and basic wage payment issues such as differentials, bonuses and required raises; as well as other requirements regarding the nurses health insurance benefits, pension contributions and tuition reimbursement. For a copy of the charging document, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The charging document filed by MNA’s attorneys stated: “By its overall pattern of not complying with and not having processes in place to comply (despite this contract having been in effect since 2018) with over 20 contract provisions within the past six months the employer has unilaterally repudiated to collective bargaining agreement.”
The charges come as the nurses, like all hospital nurses in the state, have come through the most challenging and traumatizing experience of their careers confronting the COVID-19 pandemic at a facility that was notorious for its failure to provide these same nurses with the personal protective equipment they needed to be fully safe, particularly during the first phases of pandemic. The situation calls for a concerted effort by all hospital employers to recognize the contributions of nurses and to provide them with the resources they need to want to work in a highly stressful hospital environment.
“The competition for nurses right now is fierce, yet our executives have given our hospital a terrible reputation that Steward doesn’t honor agreements on staffing, that your wages won’t be paid on time or accurately; that they lack the most basic management and payroll processes,” said Kirsten Ransom, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA. “At a time when we are desperate for more nurses to work here to care for our patients, they simply won’t come here or stay here if they do come here under these circumstances.”
"RNs and every member of the care team has been working as hard as we can struggling through the worst of times over the past two and a half years and we can’t understand how or why our administration refuses or is incapable of following a contract they negotiated and agreed to,” added Kate Cashman, RN, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA.
“We worked hard to negotiate a contract with patient safety and staffing as the priority, to provide an environment that respects the role and value of our nurses, and that would allow us to provide the best care for our patients” said Ellen MacInnis, RN, a member of the nurses negotiating committee. “We need management to do their jobs not just for the staff but for the patients.”
According to MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham, who has been leading the MNA for more than 20 years, overseeing the filing of unfair labor practice charges for more than 85 health care facilities the MNA represents, “With the exception of Tenet Healthcare, who owns St. Vincent Hospital, I have never seen any employer engage in such a broad effort to violate a union contract. It is as reprehensible as it is unprecedented.”
Now that the charges have been filed, they will need to be investigated by the NLRB who may then file a complaint against the hospital to require them to comply with the agreement.