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Baystate nurses begin strike

  • Nurses and supporters picket early Wednesday morning during frigid temperatures at the start of the strike at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • The nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center are on strike for the second time in the year and a half labor dispute with hospital administration. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • Striking nurses and their supporters on High Street in front of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Striking nurses and their supporters on High Street in front of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Wednesday. April 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Striking nurses and their supporters on High Street in front of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Wednesday. April 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Donna Stern rallies the striking nurses and their supporters on High Street in front of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield resident and Town Councilor Doug Mayo rallies the striking nurses and their supporters on High Street in front of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Wednesday. April 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Thursday, April 12, 2018

GREENFIELD — In what the president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association called “one of the most contentious” disputes the union is involved in across the state, the nurses returned to the picket line Wednesday for their second one-day strike in 10 months.

In front of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, the Greenfield nurses began their strike at 7 a.m. with rallies at noon and 5 p.m.

“There is no timeline on safety,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and a nurse at Cambridge Hospital. “They’re willing to do whatever they need to do to provide the safest care they can.”

Kelly-Williams drove from the Boston-area Tuesday evening to attend the rally the nurses held as the hospital began its lockout of the striking nurses, bringing in temporary nursing staff to work the shifts. She said part of the reason this labor dispute is so significant is because “corporate people are not listening to the nurses.”

Throughout the day, nurses picketed outside of the hospital on High Street. By noon, about 100 people had gathered for a rally. Attendance at Wednesday’s rally was about the same as the one in June, but there were more speakers from local and regional unions at last year’s protest. Greenfield nurses union head Donna Stern spoke, along with a few others, including Greenfield City Councilor Doug Mayo, who is a former union leader, and Franklin County Central Labor Council President Patrick Burke.

“Sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I say, how much longer can we do this?” Stern said into the mic at the noon rally. “As long as we stay united, they can’t beat us.”

The nurses and hospital have been at loggerheads since November 2016. Similar frustrations were heard back in June, when the nurses held their first strike.

The union says the main reason for this strike now is staffing. The nurses and hospital administration are at odds over charge nurses and whether they should be able to be assigned to a particular patient. Stern and others at the rally spoke about an independent person brought in by the hospital to evaluate whether the nurses were understaffed and they say the answer came back resoundingly so. The nurses spokesman Joe Markman said the details about this independent evaluation cannot be released because it was from their bargaining session.

Other issues, like health insurance and overtime also topped the nurses’ agenda. While these two core issues are not settled, the nurses have said they are closer to agreements over them.

Stern said earlier this week she was satisfied with the recent offer the hospital gave in regards to an insurance plan for the nurses, but, she said, it was packaged with the hospital’s offer on staffing. Stern argued that this package is “like blackmail.”

Speaking at the rally, Stern emphasized her main talking points, referring to the hospital as a “fat cat” organization that doesn’t act as a nonprofit, and that the nurses union will continue to fight for their demands as long as they have to.

The nurses at Berkshire Medical Center and Baystate Franklin Medical Center hold the two longest contract disputes that are overseen by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in the state, Markman said.

“We have a protected voice and we’re going to keep using it until we get what?” Stern asked to the quick reply of “safe staffing.” “I can’t hear you — and when do we want it?” “Now,” the crowd replied. “And we wanted it months ago,” Stern concluded.

Monday, Baystate Franklin Medical Center Interim President Ron Bryant and Interim Chief Nurse Officer Deb Provost questioned why their current contract offer had not been voted on by the nurses and instead there was a strike looming.

Bryant and Provost hinted that the Greenfield nurses probably wanted to keep open the dialogue of staffing to promote the Massachusetts Nurses Association ballot initiative up for a statewide vote this November.

The nurses vehemently denied this was their plan. “This is about this community and this hospital and the issues the nurses have identified here,” Kelly-Williams said on Wednesday.

As a part of contractual obligations, Baystate Franklin Medical Center locked out its nurses, preventing them from crossing the picket line Tuesday evening until 7 p.m. Friday. The estimated cost of the lockout is about $1 million, Baystate Franklin officials said.

In the hour before the lockout, Stern attempted to enter the hospital to assist her fellow nurses, which she said is her right to do, but she was denied entry at the door by four Greenfield Police officers.

The nurses also announced more details for the rest of the week at the noon rally.

On Thursday, the nurses will conduct community service around Greenfield, calling for people to bring trash bags. There will also be a blood drive.

Friday, the nurses will head to Baystate Health to make their points, including those over health insurance, heard to administration. “Guess what Health New England,” Stern said about the Baystate-owned company which provides their insurance. “We’re coming after you, too.”

The nurses will have a bus to pick people up at the Big Y Plaza in Greenfield at 10 a.m. Friday to drive to Springfield for these actions.

“They’re so petrified of us taking this fight to Springfield,” Stern said. “If you’re going to make decisions about what’s happening in Franklin County, then guess what, we’re going to take this fight to Hampden County.”

Joshua Solomon can be reached at: jsolomon@recorder.com