Haverhill, MA – The state legislative delegation representing communities served by Steward Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley (HFHMV) this week sent a letter to the hospital’s president, Joseph Roach, urging him to “negotiate a fair contract with the nurses so they can continue to provide the best care to the people of our communities.”
The 145 registered nurses at HFHMV, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), have been attempting for several months to negotiate a new union contract, yet the hospital has failed to engage in a good faith effort to negotiate with the nurses. As a result, the nurses were recently forced to file two unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the facility for bargaining in bad faith.
The letter, which was signed by State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D Essex), Rep. Linda Dean Campbell (D-Haverhill/Methuen), Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D- Haverhill/Lawrence) and Rep. Leonard Mirra (R-Essex), highlights the fact that nurse were “willing to sacrifice while the hospital endured difficult financial times,” yet now management is failing to reward the nurses when state data shows “HFH Haverhill and Methuen combined reported a $14.1 million or 7.96 percent profit margin for the most recently published period.” To receive a copy of the letter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The letter goes on to state “It is surprising to see management’s written proposals, not for improvements, but rather for a cut in wage scales, not allowing nurses to be included in the retirement program until the last day of a new three-year contract, a requirement for nurses to “float” at management’s direction to another hospital, and diminishment of even sick leave benefits.” (On July 18 management issued a revised proposal calling for a freeze in wage scales for approximately 15 months instead of the previous proposal to reduce wages, but maintained proposals for cuts in benefits and certain pay practices, resulting in an overall cut in compensation as nurses continue to leave).
The legislators further cite concerns about management practices and staffing conditions at the hospital driven by high RN turnover. The letter points to “reports that in recent months, MVH management has been ‘capping’ admissions on multiple days – not for a lack of licensed beds, but due to an inadequate number of RNs now working for the hospital to staff those beds. We have also seen data that 41 percent of the RNs at Merrimack Valley Hospital who had been employed as of April 2014 were no longer working for the hospital as of April 2016.”
The letter concludes by linking the hospital’s recent practices and current contract proposals to a further increase in RN turnover. “Such demands on the nursing staff could logically be predicted to hasten the exodus of these dedicated and vital RNs, to the community’s detriment.”
“As nurses who care deeply about this hospital and who every day strive to provide the best care possible to our communities, we greatly appreciate the validation and support provided by our local legislators,” said Jane Emery, an RN in the hospital’s Med/Surg. Telemetry unit and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit for HFHMV. “We sincerely hope this helps convince our management to do the right thing for its nurses and, most importantly, for our patients by being fair to those who care and settle this agreement for the good of all in this community. The nurses have sacrificed for the hospital: For three years from 2012 through 2014 we agreed to a freeze in our wage scales when the hospital was having hard times financially. Now that we are profitable nurses are feeling unappreciated and they’re going to work elsewhere.”
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 provide necessary information requested by the MNA to begin fruitful talks. In response, the MNA filed its first charge of unfair labor practices against Steward Holy Family at Merrimack Valley on February 22, 2016 with the National Labor Relations Board. To date nine negotiating sessions have been held with the next session scheduled for Aug 3.