Seek Injunction to Prevent Dramatic Cuts to Nurses’ Retiree Health Benefit
CHA Management Cut Off Negotiations with Nurses after Just Five Sessions,
Flaunts State Labor Law By Declaring Impasse, Imposes Last Offer and Slashes Nurses
Retiree Health Benefit
SLRC Hearing on the Union’s Call for an Injunction is Scheduled for Thursday, July 8
CAMBRIDGE, MA – The registered nurses of the Cambridge Hospital campus of the Cambridge Health Alliance have filed an unfair practice charge with the State Labor Relations Commission (SLRC) against the hospital for its refusal to engage in good faith negotiations with the nurses in their effort to reach agreement on a new union contract. The nurses are outraged by management’s recent decision to cease talks and declare impasse after only five sessions, while issuing their “last and final” offer on June 24, 2010, which included a 40 percent cut to the nurses’ retiree health benefit. The action is in direct violation of state labor law, which requires parties to move to mediation and fact finding prior to seeking a declaration of impasse.
Citing the hospitals financial instability and changes in accounting standards for retiree health benefits, CHA management implemented the cut to the retiree health benefit even though the nurses and their union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, were engaging in a good faith effort to reach a fair settlement on the issue. The MNA had brought in nationally known experts on pension and retiree health issues to work with the hospital on an alternative solution, yet the hospital refused to continue negotiations and chose to break the law and implement their plan. Also, CHA acknowledged in 2008 that the accounting standards change in how to treat a retiree health benefit may impact its financial statement. However, CHA did nothing until 2010 to remedy this problem, and rather than comply with state law and negotiate a change in benefits, it chooses to act illegally.
“We are appalled by this blatant and unwarranted disregard for nurses’ legal rights, not to mention the disrespect it shows for the dedicated caregivers who have given so much to this institution,” said Betty Kaloustian, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit, who has worked at the hospital for more than 36 years. “This is an unprecedented action by management that has sent shock waves through the staff of this institution, dramatically impacting the morale of all those who have given their heart and soul to this hospital. It is nothing less than shameful.”
According to Julie Pinkham, MNA executive director, “Our organization cannot accept such a flagrant refusal to honor the rule of law, and we intend to use every means at our disposal to ensure that a true negotiation takes place that respects the rights of these nurses. This will cause irreparable harm to labor relations at the CHA facilities at a time when a positive working relationship is of paramount importance. We cannot understand how the hospital board of trustees can condone such reckless behavior and we sincerely believe the CEO and the director of human resources, who implemented this strategy, should be held accountable for this egregious action.”
The MNA represents more than 395 nurses at Cambridge Hospital. Donna Mondeau, a long time nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the bargaining unit, believes the retiree health benefit was a promise made to the nurses, many of whom have worked for years at the public sector facility, forgoing higher wages they could have made at nearby private sector hospitals. They stayed on at Cambridge in large part due to the retiree health and pension benefits.
“Now hundreds of our members, including 60 of our most senior nurses who have never paid into Medicare, are seeing their health benefits slashed and their retirement security severely compromised by this unprecedented management action,” Mondeau explained.
Negotiations for a new contract began in May, with a total of five sessions held to date. The contract expired on June 30, 2010. In response to the hospitals’ action, the MNA filed an official request for mediation and fact finding with the SLRC as well as filed a prohibitive practice charge on July 1 which included a request for the SLRC to seek an injunction against the CHA from proceeding with the retiree health cuts. The SLRC has set a hearing on the charge and the injunction for July 8 at 10 a.m.