As Contract Talks Stall Over Partners’ Plan for Unwarranted Floating of Nurses and Demand to Cut Nurses’ Wage Scale
Nurses Outraged by Partners Demands to Shortchange Patients and Nurses While Posting More than $350 Million in Profits
SALEM, MA -- The registered nurses of North Shore Medical Center, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners Health Care, have submitted the required 10-day notice to conduct an informational picket outside the Salem-based hospital on March 27 from 2 – 5 p.m.
According to the nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United, contract talks have stalled over Partner’s plan to increase the floating of nurses to cover for staffing shortages and their demand to cut the nurses’ stepped salary scale – issues the nurses believe compromise their ability to recruit and retain staff needed to safely care for patients.
The NSMC nurses are outraged by the hospital’s lack of effort to negotiate a fair settlement with the nurses in light of the fact that Partners Healthcare is the most profitable health care system in the state, if not all of New England, having generated more than $9 billion in revenues and having posted profits of more than $352 million.
“Nurses, who provide 90 percent of the care that patients receive and who give their heart and soul every day to ensure their safety, are appalled that Partners continues to place its desire for profits ahead of its concern for patients and those who care for them,” said Fran O’Connell, RN, a long time nurse at NSMC and chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit at the hospital.
As an alternative to having patient care units fully staffed with nurses experienced to care for patients in those areas, Partners is demanding the right to “float” nurses from one area of the medical center to another where they may be unfamiliar with the specific patient conditions, the equipment or procedures on that unit, and as result, may not be able to provide appropriate care.
“We are very concerned about this proposal as nursing is highly specialized,” O’Connell explained. “It is akin to asking a math teacher to also teach French. In the hospital setting, such practices can be dangerous.”
To ensure the safety of patients, the nurses are seeking contract language that gives them the right to refuse to be floated to areas where they are not competent to provide the care the patients deserve.
The other key issue preventing a settlement is Partners’ demand that the nurses accept a 50 percent cut to their salary step scale, which for years has granted each nurse a four percent wage increase on the anniversary date of their hiring into NSMC. Partners wants to cut that to two percent, a move that is unwarranted given Partners enormous profit margin, and the fact that no other nurses in the Partners system represented by the MNA have been asked to accept such a wage cut. The NSMC nurses also point out that they are already paid as much as 20 percent less than the nurses at other Partners facilities, despite the fact that they provide the same level of care to a challenging population of patients.
“Our salary scale is a key to retaining experienced nurses, as it encourages nurses to stay on with our hospital and to continue to develop their skill and experience in caring for our unique patient population,” said Joanne Raby, a longtime nurse at NSMC and co-chair of the bargaining unit. “Nurses signed onto this organization with the expectation that the hospital’s commitment to reward their skill and experience would be honored. Now they are breaking that commitment, and they are doing it when they are making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.”
The NSMC nurses, in an attempt to break the logjam in negotiations for a new union contract, have offered to place the remaining issues in dispute for consideration by a third party through interest arbitration, a proposal that was rejected by Partners.
“We are very confident in our positions on the key issues preventing a settlement and we are willing to allow an impartial arbitrator consider both positions and decide what makes sense,” said O’Connell. “It’s unfortunate that Partners lacks the same confidence in their own position and wants to prolong this process.”
The parties have since agreed to invite a federal mediator to the table, and the second session with the mediator will be held on March 20. The parties began negotiations on September 18, 2013 and to date 11 sessions have been held. The contract expired on September 30, 2013 but has been extended through the next session.
“We have been trying to convince the hospital to be fair to the nurses and to our patients,” said Raby. “Now we are appealing directly to the public for their support to ensure that Partners puts patients before profits, and the care of this community ahead of its concern for the corporate bottom line.”