Merrimack Valley Hospital Nurses Ratify New Contract
Three-year pact includes 22% - 33% pay hike
Haverhill, MA — The registered nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Merrimack Valley Hospital have ratified a new three-year contract that provides wage increases of 22 percent - 33 percent. It also includes new contract language designed to limit the dangerous practice of mandatory overtime, limit “on call” requirements for nurses, ensure the proper assignment of nurses to patient units, prevent workplace violence, and protect nurses’ union rights.
“Achieving a well deserved salary increase for our nurses was a priority for this contract, said Kathy Renzi, RN, a staff nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit. “It is imperative that we are competitive with neighboring hospitals, allowing us to keep and attract qualified nurses to provide safe patient care.”
The three-year agreement runs from April 6, 2008 to Sep. 30, 2010. The pact includes the following key provisions:
- Salary increase – Provides a 22 percent salary increase across the board (16 percent in 2008; 4 percent in year 2009 and 2 percent in 2010; along with additional adjustments to the nurses’ salary scale), which means nurses’ pay will increase between 22 percent and 33 percent over the life of the agreement depending on years of service. Because the contract also calls for nurses to be placed on the salary scale based on their total experience as RNs as opposed to just years of service at MVH, some nurses will receive increases as high as 52 percent. The starting hourly wage at the end of the contract will be $32.57 up from $26.32 with a top wage step of $50.95 up from $38.43. It will also increase hourly pay differentials for nurses who work on call, evenings, nights and weekends.
- Limits to mandatory overtime and on call– Provides all nurses with the right to refuse being forced to work overtime if the nurse believes he/she is too tired to provide safe patient care. Mandatory overtime, which has been used at MVH to compensate for understaffing, is a dangerous practice that studies show contributes to an increase in medical errors and harm to patients, as well as injuries to nurses. The contract also includes provisions that limit the amount of time a nurse can be placed “on call.”
- Ensures proper assignment of nurses to patient care units (floating) – Provides new procedures to ensure safe “floating” of a nurse between different patient care areas. Floating is a term that refers to the movement of a nurse from one patient care area to another to cover for staffing shortages. The contract includes new language which guarantees that nurses who are floated to an unfamiliar area must work under the direction of a nurse experienced in caring for those patients. The contract also includes language creating a pool of nurses who will be specially trained to float among units to support regular full and part-time staff.
- Workplace violence protection – The nurses won new contract language to reduce workplace violence, a growing problem for nurses across the Commonwealth, as studies show that nurses are assaulted on the job as much as police officers and prison guards. The new language calls for the hospital to document and investigate any incident of workplace violence and to work with the nurses’ union to implement actions to prevent similar incidents. It also calls for victims of workplace violence to be provided with appropriate medical and psychological support.
- Protects health insurance benefit – The nurses fought back an attempt by management to negotiate a reduction in their health insurance benefit, while also increasing the lifetime cap on benefits from $1 million to $2 million.
- Protection of union rights – The nurses won contract language that protects union rights for nurses at the facility and their ability to advocate for patients. The language prevents the hospital from exploiting a recent controversial ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, which found that charge nurses (nurses who oversee the flow of patients on a floor) or nurses who perform charge duties may be classified as supervisors, and are thereby ineligible for union membership. The new language clearly recognizes the union rights of all nurses in the union.
"The nurses are pleased to have this agreement with Merrimack Valley Hospital. This contract gives us a pay scale which matches all other hospitals in the Merrimack Valley and beyond,” said Claire Walsh, RN, an emergency room nurse and co-chair of the local bargaining unit.” Additionally, the advancements which we have achieved will make us more competitive within our region and has formed a good base for the future success of this hospital".
The 143 nurses of Merrimack Valley Hospital began negotiations on the new contract on Sep. 25, 2007, with a tentative agreement reached on March 20, 2008.