Labor and Health Care Issues
Berkshire Medical Center Nurses Schedule 24-hour Strike for Monday, June 18 after Management Refuses to Make Staffing and Patient Care Improvements
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The 800 registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, delivered notice to hospital management on Monday evening notifying them of their intent to hold a one-day strike beginning at 7 a.m. on Monday, June 18 and running until 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 19.
“Our nurses have said it loud and clear: We will not stop fighting for staffing improvements that help keep our patients safe. We have demonstrated our unity with three separate votes and have persisted despite the length of our fight and management’s divisiveness,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. “Today management offered proposals that do not make sufficient improvements for us to provide our patients with the care they deserve.”
The BMC MNA Bargaining Committee – nurses elected by their colleagues to represent them – issued the strike notice after management refused once again during the latest bargaining session to agree to proposals that would improve the everyday staffing problems that confront BMC nurses and their patients. This despite nurses being open to various negotiating ideas around safe staffing and offering management the hospital’s top priority regarding health insurance.
On May 25, management asked if nurses would be willing to explore their idea of creating Resource Nurse positions on all shifts seven days a week.
We said yes, we would if there can be an agreement with these criteria:
- There would have to be an adequate number of resource nurses on each shift in several of the hospital units. We said if they propose there would be only two in the whole hospital, that won’t be useful.
- We would need to negotiate modifications to the current charge RN staffing specifically charges without assignment on the mother baby unit.
- There would need to be our proposed language that management will post and recruit to fill such positions that are necessary for the Hospital to meet its contractual obligations relating to RNs.
Management on Monday made proposals inconsistent with those criteria above and inconsistent with their own description they presented last week: There would be only two resource nurses for the whole 300+ bed hospital and only on days, none from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., and they would not agree to charges or resource nurses in the mother baby unit.
A Brief History of Nurses Fighting and Voting for Staffing and Patient Care Improvements
BMC nurses have been negotiating a new contract since September 2016. Before and during negotiations, nurses have consistently identified unsafe staffing as a problem and have sought to address the issue in a fair agreement.
- Nurses went to management seeking solutions, discussing the problem in labor-management meetings, writing petitions to hospital executives and sending letters.
- BMC nurses filed 509 unsafe staffing forms between October 2015 and April 2018 – an average of one form every other day for 31 months. The forms are a tool used by nurses to document to hospital management any time they are confronted with care conditions that in their professional judgment are inconsistent with appropriate patient care.
- Management did not respond to those attempts and so nurses brought the issue into negotiations. When management refused to make staffing improvements at the bargaining table, nurses brought the issue to the public through demonstrations and voted down – by more than 80% -- a “best and final” offer from management on May 31, 2017.
- Nurses then voted by a margin of 83% on July 26, 2017 to authorize a one-day strike. The 85% turnout was the most ever for a BMC nurse vote. Nurses held a 24-hour strike on Oct. 3, 2017 and were then locked out for four days by management after management refused once again to make staffing improvements.
- After negotiating in good faith following the strike, nurses voted again, on Jan. 16, 2018, to authorize a second one-day strike after management refused to offer a fair contract that included staffing improvements. Nurses were poised to strike on February 27 but withdrew their notice to make space for negotiations to progress.
- Since nurses withdrew their strike notice, management has refused to make proposals that would improve the staffing and patient care problems despite nurses offering management their top priority – a doubling of health insurance premium costs for nurses on individual plans.
- There is no reason Berkshire Medical Center cannot agree to a fair contract, especially considering its enormous profits. Over the last five years, BMC has made a profit of more than $207 million, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. In 2016 alone, BMC posted a profit of $47.2 million. That is a margin of 9.7% – more than three times the state and regional averages of 3%, making it a real outlier among profitable hospitals. Read the CHIA BMC data here.