|BMC Nurses Give Bargaining Committee OK to Call 2nd Strike|
|Staff Reports, |
12:08AM / Wednesday, January 17, 2018
|The nurses had gone out on strike in October and could do it again.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center on Tuesday approved giving the bargaining committee the authority to call a second one-day strike.
The local Massachusetts Nurses Association chapter has been at odds with management for nearly a year and a half of contract negotiations. In October, the nurses staged a one-day strike, which was followed by a four-day lockout by management. The two sides returned to the bargaining table shortly afterward and have yet to come to a settlement.
After two days of voting concluding Tuesday night, the union's membership voted to again give its bargaining committee the authority to call a one-day strike. The vote doesn't necessarily mean there will be another strike, but the committee now has the authority to call one.
"Our community and our patients need to be able to hold Berkshire Medical Center accountable for providing safe patient care at all times," said Alex Neary, co-chair of the union's bargaining committee, in a statement released Tuesday evening.
"We brought our concerns to the public with a one-day strike in October and since then hospital administrators have refused to move on our key issues. This is completely unacceptable. It is why today nurses have sent a clear message to BMC: Negotiate a fair contract that protects our patients!"
The union said 82 percent of the union's voters approved the authorization. Should the bargaining committee call a strike, there is a 10-day notice required.
The two sides have been particularly at issue over staffing levels and health insurance. The union has particularly focused on increasing staffing levels, saying units are often unsafely staffed.
"The No. 1 priority of a hospital should be to provide safe, quality patient care,” said Gerri Jakacky, co-chair of the bargaining committee, in a statement.
"Our nurses have for years identified problems, and for years BMC has ignored our concerns. Why won’t hospital administrators take the money they get from the public and use it to ensure the public is safe rather than spend it on forcing nurses to strike and locking them out of their own hospital for days afterward? Our proposals to eliminate or limit patient assignments for charge nurses and maintain nurse staffing at the hospital’s own current level are reasonable ways to ensure patient safety."
The unionized nurses have been without a contract since September 2016. In May, the nurses rejected the hospital's "best and final offer." In July, the nurses gave the committee the authority to call a second strike, which was followed by a September notification of a strike.
On the morning of Oct. 4, the nurses left their shift to join their colleagues on the picket line. The following morning, they were locked out because the hospital said it had to sign a five-day contract with replacement nurses to fill the shifts.
After a four-day lockout, the nurses went back to work. Since then, there have been four bargaining sessions in which both sides have reported that progress was being made on some of the issues. But the union said the hospital still hasn't moved far enough on the staffing issues.
The union then scheduled the second vote in hopes to send a strong message to management.
Brenda Cadorette, BMC's chief nursing officer, released a letter to nurses after being informed about the second authorization vote saying management was "both surprised and disappointed" in the authorization vote.
"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."
The bargaining has been ongoing with the assistance of a federal mediator.