Morton Hospital Nurses & Health Professionals Schedule Strike Authorization Vote For April 28 as Contract Talks Continue to Stall Over Plan to Dismantle Pension Benefit
TAUNTON, MA - After six months of negotiations, including another session held on Monday with a federal mediator, the registered nurses and health professionals of Morton Hospital have scheduled a strike authorization vote for April 28, 2010. Monday’s session ended after only a few hours when the hospital failed to respond to a comprehensive proposal to settle the contract, which the union had presented at the previous session on April 6. Talks continue to stall over management’s proposal to dismantle the nurses defined benefit pension plan, along with cuts to the nurses’ health insurance benefit at a time when the hospital is making a healthy profit.
“We are tired of the delay in negotiations. We have had 21 sessions to date. It’s time for management to negotiate in earnest to reach a fair settlement,” said Joyce Wilkins, RN, chair of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Morton Hospital. “We have seen the hospital’s finances and they show this hospital will make significant profits of $5 to $6 million over the next two years. We have discovered that the cost of our pension for all employees is a mere 1% of the hospital’s annual revenues. There is no reason for them to take away any benefits when it represents such a minuscule component of the hospital’s budget and when they are making money.”
In its last proposal, the nurses offered a compromise on the pension issue, proposing that the parties agree to reopen the new contract after only two years to discuss the pension issue again in light of a potentially negative change in the hospital’s finances.
“We understand there is uncertainty about the future economic climate for the hospital industry under health reform, and that is why we offered to re-open the contract in two years, when and if the hospital’s finances do indeed change, then we could consider making a change in our position, “ Wilkins said.
The plan to cut the nurses’ pension plan, which would result in a 36-50 percent cut to the nurses’ retirement benefit, has outraged the nurses, given that management had awarded its outgoing CEO an astounding $3 million retirement bonus in 2009. In fact, the $3 million retirement bonus given to former CEO Tom Porter in 2009 was significantly larger than the cost of the pension for all employees that year.
The strike authorization vote has been scheduled to take place throughout the day and into the evening on Wednesday, April 28, during which time nurses will cast their vote by secret ballot. The vote does not mean the nurses would strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committee the authorization to call a strike if and when they feel it is necessary. If the committee feels there is no recourse but to call for a strike, the hospital will be given a 10-day notice. There will still be an opportunity to negotiate a settlement during that period.
In addition to the pension, other outstanding issues include the nurses’ call for strict limits on the use of mandatory overtime as a staffing mechanism and a proposal to increase nurses’ health insurance premiums and co-pays. One positive note has been the progress made in talks on the issue of mandatory overtime, where the hospital has moved closer to the nurses’ position. The parties will meet again on April 20, where the nurses hope a settlement can be reached.
“None of us want a strike. We want a good faith negotiation for a fair settlement,” said Wilkins. “But we are committed to using our legal rights, including a strike, if our members determine that a strike is what is necessary to protect our interests and the interests of our patients.”