Unionized Nurses at Tobey Hospital Reach Winning Settlement against Southcoast Hospitals Group on Both NLRB Charge and New Contract
The 150 registered nurses who work at Tobey Hospital, and who are unionized with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, received welcome news last week in the form of a ratified contract and a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) settlement that put closure to a contract fight that has been ongoing since April of 2015.
The new two-year contract and NLRB settlement agreement, although separate, were packaged together as a part of a single ratification vote that happened on March 8. The nurses overwhelmingly voted in favor of ratifying the contract/agreement. It results in overdue wage increases for all RNs, as well as payments of as much as $10,000 by Southcoast to affected nurses who are part of the NLRB settlement.
Last week’s ratification vote brought to an end a three-year battle that began on April 15, 2015. On that day, managers at Southcoast Hospitals Group, the owner and operator of Tobey Hospital, declared impasse after only eight bargaining sessions with the nurses for a successor contract. With that declaration, management then unilaterally and illegally implemented numerous changes to the contract that resulted in significant wage and benefit losses for the nurses. Those changes included freezing wages, eliminating holidays, and cutting contributions to nurses’ 403b plans. It also meant that the nurses were unable to continue negotiating their successor contract with management, leaving other important issues to languish indefinitely.
The MNA, on behalf of the Tobey nurses, immediately filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB stating that Southcoast Hospitals Group had illegally declared impasse and thus had also illegally implemented said changes to the contract.
On July 31 of 2015 the NLRB’s general counsel, in support of the nurses, issued a complaint against Southcoast saying that the hospital group had in fact violated the National Labor Relations Act. But on August 12, 2015 the hospital filed a response with the NLRB denying the complaint. And so began a long process by Southcoast that left nurses without the fair compensation and benefits owed to them for nearly three years.
This process included a trial that was heard by an NLRB administrative law judge in Providence, RI during the weeks of Oct. 27 to 29 and Nov. 18 and 19, 2015, at which point extensive evidence was presented by the MNA, and numerous RNs and union leaders took to the witness stand. In March of 2016, the NLRB ruled entirely in favor of the nurses.
The hospital — in a letter to the nurses dated March 16, 2016, from David DeJesus, Southcoast’s senior vice president of human resources — announced it would continue with the appeals process. But soon after the hospital agreed to explore a settlement with the Tobey nurses, the results of which were voted on and ratified last week (March 8, 2018).
Highlights of the ratified NLRB settlement include:
- Back payment for two missed holidays in years 2015, 2016, and 2017. The top reimbursement for a nurse in this category is $1,506.55
- Back payment for missed 403b contributions. The top reimbursement for a nurse in this category is $6,383.61.
- Back payment for missed step earnings. The top reimbursement for a nurse in this category is $8,810.79.
- For nurses who were eligible for payments in all three categories the top reimbursement came in at $10,973.52.
Nurses are expected to receive the checks specific to the NLRB settlement in approximately 21 days. In addition, the new two-year contract is now in effect and the nurses are eligible for all of benefits and protections contained within it.
With such a significant win under their belts, the unionized Tobey nurses are already looking ahead to the start of the next contract talks, which will likely begin in the late spring/early summer of 2019.
“Fighting this fight, although long and tedious, and having it end with such a significant win has brought even more solidarity to our union,” said Maddie Jezierski, RN and union chairperson. “Our plan now is to dig deep into the hospital’s financial data. It’s the best way we can prep for the next contract.”
The nurses decided this was an essential next step after Mr. DeJesus, in the previously mentioned 2016 letter, told the nurses that, “What was imposed in the impasse were items necessary to deal with a $30 million loss in the prior year.”
“That claim of a $30 million loss was certainly not brought on by Tobey’s nurses,” added Jezierski. “So we will be assessing the hospital’s financial data — everything from the compensation packages for Southcoast’s executives, to how Southcoast has been reimbursing its affiliated doctors and medical groups. We’ll have an in depth understanding of all that long before our next contract talks.”