News & Events

National Labor Relations Board Finds Merit to Three Unfair Labor Practice Charges against Berkshire Medical Center

04.03.2018

PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The National Labor Relations Board has issued notice that it has found merit to three charges filed against Berkshire Medical Center for violations of the National Labor Relations Act, finding that the hospital unlawfully threatened to interfere with nurses’ benefits prior to their voting for a one-day strike last year; failed to provide information about the hospital’s contract with replacement nurses; and for nearly a year failed to provide information on its health insurance program, which was necessary for bargaining with the nurses.

In addition, the NLRB on Friday said that it is still investigating an unfair labor practice charge filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association alleging the hospital’s four-day lockout of nurses following their strike last October was unlawful. The NLRB attorney assigned to that charge wrote on Friday that one of findings issued is “interrelated to a finding with respect to that case as well.”

“We have been trying to negotiate a fair contract that ensures high-quality patient care since October 2016,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the BMC RN Bargaining Committee. “These National Labor Relations Board findings show that while we have been negotiating in good faith, the hospital has been withholding information they are legally required to provide and has tried to intimidate nurses from standing up for their rights in ways that the government has agreed were against the law.”

Intimidation Letter Finding Related to Illegal Lockout Charge

One of the NLRB’s findings of violation of the National Labor Relations Act concerns a letter that BMC Vice President of Human Resources Arthur Milano sent to nurses on July 13, 2017. The MNA filed an unfair labor practice charge last year stating that the hospital violated nurses’ protected rights to vote to authorize a strike and hold a strike by, among other statements, “misrepresenting the consequences of a vote to strike” and “threatening to stop health insurance benefits for nurses while on a one-day strike.”

The NLRB concluded that the letter did violate the National Labor Relations Act, “including by stating that ‘contributions for health insurance benefits for all nurses who are on strike will cease’ and that coverage would continue only if the employee elected to personally pay the entire cost of the premium through a COBRA arrangement.” The statements in that letter, the NLRB attorney announced on Friday, are further related to the pending investigation of the illegal lockout charge.

“We have been trying to negotiate a fair contract that ensures high-quality patient care since October 2016,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the BMC RN Bargaining Committee. “These National Labor Relations Board findings show that while we have been negotiating in good faith, the hospital has been withholding information they are legally required to provide and has tried to intimidate nurses from standing up for their rights in ways that the government has agreed were against the law.”

BMC Replacement Nurse Contract Finding

The NLRB also found that BMC violated the law by “delaying and refusing to respond to” MNA requests for correspondence, contracts and documents between BMC and the staffing agency it used to replace BMC nurses during their one-day strike and the hospital’s four-day lockout.

“Additionally, although the Employer provided a redacted copy of the staffing agency contract on about 12/7/17, because the Employer did not timely assert a claim of confidentiality in response to the request, nor offer an accommodation, or ever substantiate the confidentiality claim, any such claim was found by the Region to be waived, and the Employer [must] produce the entire un-redacted contract, with all attachments,” the NLRB wrote on Friday. 

For context, the MNA pointed this out to the employer and the NLRB in a 12/11/17 letter upon receiving the document that management had been refusing to provide since September 2017: “The contract you provided on December 7, 2017 is rendered meaningless [because]: It is 93% redacted.  Out of 675 lines of text, you blacked out 630 lines.”

Health Insurance Data Finding

The third finding of violation of the National Labor relations Act was related to the MNA’s request for health insurance data. The NLRB said BMC violated federal law “by failing to timely respond to the Union’s June 19, 2017 information request related for health insurance benefit related information.” BMC is proposing to double the percentage of the health insurance premium contributions nurses would have to make for individual plans.  Because the health plans offered by the hospital are self-insured, and so the employer sets the rates, the MNA repeatedly said that they must have this very basic data on how the rates are calculated before considering whether to agree to any particular percentage.  The NLRB agreed that the employer was required to provide this data and that they had not done so for many months.

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency vested with the power to safeguard employees' rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative, according to its website. The agency also acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.

Bargaining Background

A second 24-hour strike had been scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 27. The RN Bargaining Committee agreed to withdraw their one-day strike notice late the Thursday night before the scheduled strike to create space to make further progress. Nurses told the hospital an agreement cannot be reached without improvements to RN staffing.

Nurses emphasized at the end of their bargaining session that they retained the right to re-issue a new 10-day notice of a new one-day strike date if talks do not proceed and further emphasized that there must be a contractual commitment to improve staffing and progress on economic issues. If another one-day strike were to be scheduled, nurses would need to issue a new 10-day notice to the hospital.

The nearly 800 BMC nurses have been negotiating a new contract since September 2016. Nurses held a one-day strike on October 3 and were then locked out of the hospital by BMC management for four additional days.

For more details on negotiations go to http://massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/10773 or contact Joe Markman at jmarkman@mnarn.org.

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.

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