METHUEN, MA – In response to what has become a recurring pattern of unlawful bargaining practices by Steward Health Care, the registered nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Steward Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, filed an unfair labor practice charge this week with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the hospital’s continued failure and refusal to provide legally required information that the nurses need to begin bargaining a new union contract.
The charge filed by the nurses at the Holy Family Hospital in Methuen follows two earlier charges filed by the nurses at Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, who are currently locked in a struggle to negotiate their union contract, an effort that has drawn widespread support from the community including the Haverhill City Council, a number of Essex County legislators, and a growing list of community leaders and residents who have sent letters and signed petitions in support of the nurses.
Steward’s alleged illegal effort to stonewall the negotiations with the Methuen nurses by withholding requested information necessary for bargaining comes at a time when the combined Holy Family Hospital Haverhill and Methuen campuses posted profits of more than $17 million and a profit margin of 8 percent, which is double the state average of 4% for the state’s acute care hospitals according the latest official reports filed with the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). The Steward system reported a $131 million operating profit for the same period. (Most recent data reported by Steward to CHIA for the first nine months of 2015.)
The latest charge stems from an initial information request sent to Steward on May 19. The request, which is a standard request unions make to all employers prior to the opening of negotiations, calls for the employer to provide a variety of legally required information, including a listing of all nurses with wage, hour and seniority data, health insurance data and information on the use of temporary/casual nurses. These requests are made by the MNA for all its negotiations with the dozens of hospitals and other health care employers where it represents nurses for collective bargaining. It is rare for any employer not to comply with these requests, yet for Steward, it has become a standard practice. In fact the MNA, which represents nurses and other health professionals at eight Steward owned hospitals across the Commonwealth, reports that Steward often employs a number of strategies to stall and delay the negotiating process, stretching most negotiations to 18 months.
“More than 40% of the nurses who were employed by the Haverhill hospital in 2014 have since left, most to find better working conditions elsewhere. Steward has become known statewide for protracted negotiations, and their failure to keep promises when they do finally negotiate,” said Dana Simon, chief negotiator for nurses represented by the MNA at all Steward owned facilities. “Steward is notorious among healthcare workers for the calculated delay of contract talks with the aim of avoiding wage increases and other contract enhancements. That’s unfortunately gotten them a reputation for disrespecting staff. The staff that remain do heroic wonderful work, but fewer healthcare workers are willing to stay and even fewer are willing to be recruited to those hospitals.”
The nurses and management at Holy Family in Methuen are scheduled to begin talks on September 20, yet the MNA has yet to receive all of the necessary information it has requested in May, which prompted the filing of the charge this week.
As the Holy Family Methuen nurses begin their talks, the nurses at Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill continue their contentious struggle to negotiate their own union contract with Steward. In those talks, Steward also refused for months to provide needed information; came to the table with virtually no proposals; reneged on a promise to provide a promised pension benefit; and have finally made a wage offer that would lag so far behind pay offered by other hospitals that more nurses are guaranteed to leave despite many of the nurses going three years without any increase, and the hospital’s posting of significant profits in the last year. The exodus of nurses from the facility has caused the hospital on numerous occasions to turn away patients seeking care at the facility.
The community of Haverhill has become involved in the nurses’ struggle, with community leaders and residents mobilizing behind the nurses. In fact, The Workers’ Rights Board, an adjunct of the Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, a coalition of community, faith and labor organizations who advocate for the fair treatment of working people, will be holding a community forum on Tuesday, Sep. 20 from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalists Church of Haverhill. The event, hosted by State Representative Diana DiZiglio; Susan Winning, Coordinator of the UMass Lowell Labor Extension Program and Unitarian Minister and community leader Ralph Galen, will be open to the public and feature testimony by the nurses of both Holy Family Hospitals, as well as concerned community members.
The next negotiating session between the nurses of Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and management is scheduled for Sep. 15, 2016.