The registered nurses of Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC) have announced their plan to conduct a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Monday, Feb. 10, in direct response to Baystate Health’s illegal declaration of impasse last week in its negotiations for a new contract with the nurses and its plan to implement its last offer, which would eliminate a key nursing standard that serves to protect nurses from working prolonged shifts.
“While we have made every effort to negotiate in good faith to avoid a strike, our employer has left us no choice with their appalling decision to ignore federal labor law and impose a settlement on our nurses, a settlement that would undermine a basic nursing standard in Massachusetts hospitals,” said Linda Judd, RN, a longtime nurse at the hospital, a resident of Shelburne and co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United. “Beyond any specific issue in dispute, this is a strike for justice in the workplace and the need for corporate giants like Baystate to uphold the law in their dealings with their employees.”
While the membership had cast an overwhelming vote to authorize the BFMC nurses’ negotiating committee to call a strike last October, the decision to issue the required 10-day notice and to set a strike date was made by the committee this week, and the membership once again endorsed the decision at open meetings held this evening. The official notice will be delivered to the hospital on Jan. 30 with the 24-hour strike set to begin on Monday, Feb. 10, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m. on Feb. 11. This will be the second one-day strike by the BFMC nurses in the two years since negotiations began for a new contract in October of 2011. The first strike was held on Oct 5, 2012.
The declaration of impasse came on the heels of two complaints the National Labor Relations Board has issued against Baystate Health for unfair labor practices. Coincidently, one of the complaints against Baystate Health was for a similar illegal declaration of impasse in 2012 in Baystate’s negotiations with the nurses who work at the Springfield-based Baystate VNA & Hospice. Ultimately, Baystate was forced to rescind its declaration of impasse and to continue negotiations with the nurses.
The key issue preventing a settlement is Baystate Health’s demand to eliminate the requirement that the employer pay overtime for consecutive hours worked beyond the end of an eight, ten or twelve hour shift. The nurses adamantly oppose this practice because they know this protection is in place in all MNA/NNU hospital contracts (which includes 70 percent of the hospitals in Massachusetts) and is a policy at most of the few non-union hospitals as well.
“The nurses have been clear – we want to reduce and eliminate overtime as a staffing tool. By contrast, Baystate simply wants to eliminate overtime pay, which removes the one disincentive from using overtime as a staffing tool,” said Donna Stern, RN, a nurse at BFMC and co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit.
The nurses point out that this is not fundamentally an economic issue. Baystate said two years ago that the total daily overtime cost at BFMC for the RNs was $180,000 on an annual basis. Since then Baystate has revised that figure because it included weekly overtime as well. That figure has now dropped to approximately $60,000 annually. To put that figure in context, the total annual overtime costs for all 200 BFMC RNs is roughly equal to one week of Baystate Health CEO Mark Tolosky’s pay and benefits.
Last summer, the NLRB issued complaints against Baystate for its refusal to provide information the nurses needed to evaluate the management’s proposals at the table, as well as for management’s efforts to prevent nurses from their lawful right to discuss union matters at work. In fact, Baystate is utilizing attorneys from Jackson Lewis, a high priced law firm known for its aggressive anti-union tactics, generating enormous legal fees that could be used to improve care for patients at the hospital.
“It is outrageous that management would rather spend its resources to break the law instead of negotiating in good faith, as we are trying to do, to reach a settlement,” said Stern. “We have even offered to put the outstanding issues before an independent arbitrator to reach a decision, yet Baystate has refused that offer and is now trying to unlawfully implement a set of their proposals.”
In response to the hospital’s action, the nurses have filed yet another set of unfair labor practice charges against the hospital with the NLRB, and are appealing to local and state officials for help in ending this conflict,
There has been an outpouring of support for nurses’ collective bargaining rights over the last year. At the Democratic State Convention held in Springfield last summer, the convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution calling on Baystate to conduct good faith negotiations with the MNA/NNU nurses and come to a fair agreement. The Greenfield City Council passed a similar resolution last year. Thousands of Franklin County residents have signed a petition of support for the Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses and delegations of community supporters and elected officials have called on Baystate to avoid further conflict and settle a fair contract with the nurses at BFMC.
“The nurses appreciate the deep and broad community and political support that has been shown across Franklin County,” Stern added, “and we ask all Franklin County residents to call on Baystate to work with the nurses to avoid a needless strike.”