|Talks Continue Between BMC, Nurses; 2nd Strike Authorization Vote Set|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:35PM / Monday, January 08, 2018
|Unionized nurses from BMC delivered a petition to trustee Jerome Jay Anderson at Pittsfield Co-op on Monday.|
Nurse Leilani McCardle-Hover gives Pittsfield Co-op staff the petition, asking that it be passed along to bank president J. Jay Anderson.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The unionized nurses at Berkshire Medical Center will be voting again to give the bargaining committee the authority to call a one-day strike.
Berkshire Medical Center management and the hospital's Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter have been at an impasse in negotiations for a year and a half.
In October, a one-day strike was held, followed by a four-day lockout by BMC when the two sides couldn't reach a settlement.
Since then there have been three negotiation sessions with one more scheduled for Tuesday. The union says there has been some consensus on a few of the issues during those sessions, but not on the two major points of contention: staffing and health insurance.
Hospital officials say they believed that the "cooperative and collaborative tone" of the sessions meant progress toward a settlement.
The union has once again called for a vote to give the bargaining committee the authority to call another one-day strike should the committee feel it is needed. The vote doesn't necessarily mean there will be a strike, nor does it set a timeline.
On Monday, a group of nurses tried to get the hospital's board of trustees aware of the nurses' issues in hopes they'll urge management to settle.
"What we were hoping to accomplish is just trying to make contact with the board of trustees. They've been a little elusive. Those that we've been able to talk to seem receptive to the plight of the nurses. But what they need to understand is our management at BMC is not listening to us. We are not being heard," said Leilani McCardle-Hover, who works as a nurse in the critical care unit.
A half dozen or so nurses went to the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank to give a petition with nearly 600 signatures to trustee Jerome Jay Anderson, president and chief operating office of the bank. But in the nurses' second attempt to hand deliver petitions to trustee members, Anderson was not available. Nor was John Bissell when the nurses attempted to deliver the petition to his work at Greylock Federal Credit Union in August.
The petition reads: "As trustees, you are stewards tasked with overseeing Berkshire Medical Center. BMC and the patient care that nurses and other staff provide are among our community's most valuable assets. Since BMC is funded primarily through public money — tax dollars and generous donations — trustees have an obligation to take the time and listen to the patient safety concerns being raised by the community and nurses. This is your job. Therefore, we are asking you to intervene NOW and convince BMC's administration to settle a fair contract with nurses. There can be no further delay. Patient safety is, and has always been, our No. 1 priority. Please demonstrate through your swift action that it is yours as well."
Since the October strike, three negotiation sessions were held — on Nov. 14, Nov. 28, and Dec. 20 — and consensus has been reached on workforce safety proposals. But, the union says the main sticking points hadn't been settled.
"We always go into bargaining with hopefulness that they will come to the table. That they'll enter the room, speak with us, and want to get down to business and finish this off," McCardle-Hover said of the next bargaining session.
"We're not asking for a whole lot. We're asking for charge nurses without a group. We're asking for them not to make staffing any worse than it is and quite honestly since we've come back from the strike things have gotten worse."
Brenda Cadorette, BMC's chief nursing officer, responded in a letter to nurses about the past three negotiating sessions. The first had focused on staff safety and security and the second on a review of actions taken to date along with discussion about concerns and suggestions, she said.
"As a result of that sharing of ideas, at the third post-strike session, we responded to the bargaining committee's safety proposals with some modified language that, after some discussion, the hospital and the union were able to find a way to resolve these important safety and security issues," she wrote, but added further on that "we have continuing disagreements about how the charge nurse function is addressed in the MNA collective bargaining agreement."
McCardle-Hover, who works in critical care, said there have been issues since the strike with paid time off and vacations being denied. And the floors remain short staffed. BMC, however, says it has cut its nurse vacancy rate by 45 percent with expectation of more improvement in that area.
Hospital officials also remain hopeful and agreed there has been progress made toward a settlement.
"Our positive experience in the three negotiating sessions since October led us to believe that we could work collaboratively with the union to resolve the remaining outstanding issues with our registered nurses," Cadorette wrote. "We were, therefore, both surprised and disappointed to learn that the MNA had scheduled votes on January 11 and 16 to authorize a second strike.
"We remain hopeful that the cooperative spirit that the bargaining committee showed at the most recent negotiating sessions will continue in future ones and will result in a fair and reasonable agreement that serves the interest of the registered nurses, the other hospital employees, the hospital itself and, most importantly, the community that we all, collectively, serve."
The contract talks have now entered their third calendar year. The previous contract expired in September 2016 and talks spanned all of 2017 — with the help of a federal mediator. The sides have had differences in opinions regarding staffing and health insurance.