|BMC Nurses Schedule Second Strike|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
09:30PM / Thursday, February 08, 2018
|The nurses at BMC went on strike in October and say there still hasn't been enough progress with negotiations.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center plan to go on strike for the second time.
The local chapter of the Massachusetts Nurses Association voted to hold a one-day strike on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Some 800 nurses have been in difficult contract negotiations with the hospital for about a year and a half after the last agreement expired in September 2016.
In October, the nurses held a one-day strike, which the hospital followed with a four-day lockout. For that week in October, the nurses held rallies and picketed outside the medical center's campuses. The nurses have been primarily focused on raising staffing levels, saying there are far too few nurses to handle the number and condition of the patients.
"We've been really clear that patient safety is our number one priority," said Mark Brodeur, who sits on the bargaining committee. "We want a guarantee that things won't get worse. Our patients are getting sicker, getting older, and getting more complicated."
But hospital officials don't want to get contractually locked into set numbers of registered nurses and say care is provided through multiple disciplines. The hospital has presented a few options including staffing committees but those didn't give the nurses enough of a guarantee that the situation would improve.
The union's most recent proposal calls for charge nurses to be unassigned to patients. At the same time, the union wants language ensuring the staffing ratios currently outlined at the hospital aren't diminished. Brodeur said that is to ensure that the other nurses on the floor won't end up taking on additional patients.
"We want to make sure there is some improvement," Brodeur said. "We've been saying this has been a problem for years ... we need something that makes things better."
The staffing issue has been taken up by MNA chapters throughout the state and nurses at multiple hospitals have gone on strike. The issue will also find a place on the state election ballot, as advocates have pushed for the patient to nurse ratios be written into law. Those similar efforts in the commonwealth have led BMC officials to believe that the standoff isn't over conditions at Berkshire Medical Center but rather a piece of the union's statewide agenda.
Since the strike, the two sides have returned to the table multiple times. But, the union says the hospital is unwilling to negotiate on the staffing issues. At the same time, the nurses are also still seeking information on the hospital's health insurance proposal, which is eyed to shift a greater percentage of the cost to the employees. Brodeur said at this point the union wants more details about the plan.
Brodeur said without all of the data the union doesn't have the ability to negotiate the changes. He said he hopes the hospital will provide that information soon so the two sides can make progress there.
The hospital previously rejected much of the info requested saying the union was overstepping its bounds. The hospital provided the details on how the rates were set, including local.
The union then asked for detailed information on the current medical and prescription drug plans; monthly paid claims separated by medical and prescription drug claims; monthly enrollment for three years; all changes made; the most recent data on administration, network, case management, clinical program, stop loss, and other fees associated with the prescription plan; the working rates for plans, and a census of employees eligible and enrolled in the various plans including date of birth, gender, zip code, status, and medical tier.
So, 17 months since negotiations began, the union is willing to go on strike over the contract. The union is assuming the one-day strike will be followed by another lockout. The hospital has not commented on the strike notice yet.
"The nurses are unified and dedicated to their patients," Brodeur said. "We're willing to keep fighting for this, to do what it takes."
The union is required to provide a 10-day notice of a strike. Brodeur said the union opted to provide additional time in hopes the two sides can reach a settlement before the hospital enters contracts for replacement nurses.
"We also gave them extra time so they can come and meet with us and negotiate with us," Brodeur said, saying the union is will to negotiate not only at the next scheduled session on Tuesday but at any time. "Are they really willing to spend another $4 million of our community's money to pay people from Texas and Orlando?"
During the last strike the hospital contracted with traveling nurses for the week - and the lockout was attributed to the need to sign a weeklong contract with the replacement nurses - and in all the strike was estimated to cost $4 million.
"Nurses should never be forced to go on strike to protect patient care," said Alex Neary, co-chair of the bargaining committee, in a statement issued Thursday night.
"The hospital has told us they will not give up the right to make staffing worse if they want to. This is unacceptable to us. Our nurses and our community have empowered us to stand up for what is right. We hope management will make the right decision and reach a settlement."
The hospital hasn't issued a comment on the scheduled strike yet. But, when the union's membership voted by 82 percent in favor of giving the bargaining committee the authority to call one, Brenda Cadorette, BMC's chief nursing officer, responded in a letter saying the hospital was disappointed in the vote and believes the two sides were working collaboratively.
"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 at the time.
"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."