In a Complete Victory for Nurses at Cambridge Hospital, State Labor Board Issues Final Ruling Saying CHA Broke the Law in Ceasing Negotiations and Cutting Retiree Health
Board Orders Hospital to Post Notice of Its Violation of Law to All Employees Today
- Orders Nurses’ Retiree Health Benefit to be Restored Immediately
- Orders Hospital to Make Whole Any Nurses Negatively Impacted
- Orders Hospital to Participate in Mediation for a Fair Settlement
CAMBRIDGE, MA – In a complete victory for the nurses of Cambridge Hospital, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) issued its final ruling late Friday, finding that Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) violated state labor law, by bargaining in bad faith and depriving nurses of their union rights following CHA’s decision to prematurely cease negotiations, declaring impasse and unilaterally slashing nurses’ retiree health benefit. In its ruling, the Board flatly rejected the hospital’s claim that it was eligible for an exception in this particular case, due to “externally imposed” and “economic” circumstances beyond their control.
In finding against CHA, the Board issued an order calling upon the hospital to post today a notice to all employees, stating that they broke the law “by unilaterally implementing changes to retiree health insurance contribution rates without satisfying the bargaining obligation set forth in M.G.L c 150E, Section 9 (public sector labor law). The order further states that CHA will:
- Restore all terms of the retiree health insurance benefit for all MNA bargaining unit members in effect prior to the Alliance’s unilateral change.
- Participate in good faith collective bargaining procedures, including mediation, fact-finding, or arbitration, if applicable, as set forth in Section 9 of the law.
- Make whole employees for economic losses suffered, if any, as a direct result of the Alliances actions, plus interest or any sums owed.
“We are thrilled and vindicated by the Board’s ruling,” said Betty Kaloustian, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit. “The Board got it right. Our employer had an obligation to negotiate with us and they chose not to. Unfortunately, the hospital’s actions have had a devastating impact on those nurses who they were trying to force to retire, not to mention the impact on all the other nurses who were seeing their benefit slashed. We are appalled at the lack of respect shown to those nurses who have given their heart and soul to this institution.”
“The law couldn’t be more clear on this point, and we are amazed that this public employer tried to claim otherwise” said Julie Pinkham, RN, executive director of the MNA.”While this case is settled, we can only hope those who made these unlawful decisions are held accountable for the financial cost involved in creating this crisis, as well as for the impact these actions will have on the nurses’ trust in the CHA administration going forward.”
The registered nurses of the Cambridge Hospital campus of CHA, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), filed an unfair labor practice charge with the CERB against the hospital on July 1, 2010 for its refusal to engage in good faith negotiations with the nurses in their effort to reach agreement on a new union contract. A preliminary hearing before the CERB was held on July 8. The CERB issued a complaint against CHA on July 12 and the formal hearing on the complaint was held on Aug. 11.
At the hearing, the MNA argued that this was a simple case involving a blatant violation of nurses’ rights, as the Cambridge Health Alliance declared an impasse after only five sessions and without first participating in the legally required process of mediation and fact finding. Subsequent to the decision, the hospital implemented a 40 percent cut to the nurses retiree health benefit and forced the nurses to put in papers for retirement by July 31, 2010 if they wanted to retire with the current benefit. In response, the MNA argued for an expedited decision by the Board to prevent implementation of the CHA retirement cuts, as nurses will suffer harm by being forced to retire early.
On Aug. 18 the CERB issued an initial ruling in favor of the union, but scheduled a hearing on Aug. 20 to provide the hospital with an opportunity to prove its claim that they are eligible for an exception in this particular case, due to “externally imposed” and “economic” circumstances beyond their control. In Friday’s ruling, the Board found no reasonable justification or evidence to supports CHA’s actions.