The registered nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United at Steward Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley (Merrimack Valley Hospital) in Haverhill filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week over the hospital’s continued refusal to bargain a new union contract. The charges also assert that the company officials who have been sent to bargaining meetings have been given no authority by the company to negotiate.
Steward’s alleged illegal effort to stonewall the negotiations with the nurses and deprive them of any wage or benefit increase comes at a time when the combined Holy Family Hospital Haverhill and Methuen campuses posted profits of more than $14 million and a profit margin of 8 percent, which is double the state average for the state’s acute care hospitals, according the latest official reports filed with the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). (Most recent data reported by the hospital to CHIA for the first nine months of 2015).
“The nurses of Merrimack Valley Hospital feel disrespected by Steward’s refusal to negotiate in good faith, particularly in light of the great sacrifices all the nurses have made to ensure this hospital’s most recent financial success,” said Jane Emery, RN, a nurse in the hospital’s Med/Surg. Telemetry unit and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit for HFHMV. “We have been here for this hospital through thick and thin. When the hospital was losing money, we took zero percent wage increases in 2012, 2013 and 2014 – three years in a row. We agreed to this because we care for the people of this community. But now that the company is making millions, they treat nurses like they have no use for us, and now nurses are resigning faster than we can hire.”
The hospital’s refusal to provide a meaningful wage and benefit package is now impacting Steward's ability to recruit and retain the staff. In the last year, as many as 27 nurses have left the facility, a high turnover rate of more than 20 percent.
“We are very proud of the quality of care we provide at Merrimack Valley. But we have had so many nurses leave in just the past six months that the hospital administration literally has been turning away patients and sending them to other hospitals on days when we don’t have the staff available to meet the demand. It’s a shame the way management is driving away nurses and limiting our ability to serve this community,” Emery said.
In addition, Steward is reneging on a contractual promise made in 2014 to provide Merrimack Valley Hospital nurses access to a defined pension benefit plan in this new agreement. Merrimack Valley Hospital is the only hospital, of the 52 acute care facilities represented by the MNA, which does not have an employer financed retirement plan,
“The nurses at this hospital deserve and need a pension to be able to retire with income security,” said Emery. “Steward made a promise to our nurses that they would negotiate this benefit in this contract. Now they refuse to even discuss it. It’s a shameful way to treat people.”
Despite this treatment by management, the nurses have consistently supported the hospital’s continued success. On March 22, 2016 nurses appeared before the Haverhill City Council to promote the hospital and to encourage the city and the community to utilize the hospital, as it enjoys some the shortest emergency department wait times in the state, and provides first rate care. They have also been meeting with city and state elected officials and public employees’ unions to promote the hospital. The nurses were praised by the City Council for their efforts to support such a vital community asset.
The MNA represents a total of 145 registered nurses at Merrimack Valley Hospital. The nurses’ previous contract with the hospital expired on March 31, 2016, but was extended through May 31, 2016. In December, the MNA began its efforts to work with Steward to begin negotiations for a successor agreement, yet Steward refused to begin the process until March 29 – two days before the contract expired. At the same time, Steward refused to provide necessary information requested by the MNA to begin fruitful talks. In response, the MNA filed its first charge of unfair labor practice against Steward Holy Family on February 22, 2016 with the National Labor Relations Board. At this point, Steward finally supplied some of the information requested. To date, nine negotiating sessions have been held, and the MNA has made numerous requests for Steward to present an economic proposal, or any substantive proposal to move the process along. Steward has refused to make virtually any proposals or to respond to the MNA’s proposals, which necessitated the most recent charge with the NLRB.
The National Labor Relations Act makes it a federal Unfair Labor Practice to fail or refuse to bargain or to send representatives to the bargaining table without the authority to bargain and to refuse to provide relevant information in bargaining.
“As nurses, we want a fair contract that prevents the loss of some of the best nurses in the region, and which allows us to recruit great nurses back to this hospital. We want to be treated with respect, and to negotiate an agreement that recognizes the contributions we make to this hospital and that allows us to continue to provide the best care possible to our community,” Emery concluded.
The next negotiating session with the hospital is scheduled for June 10, 2016.