Nurses strike averted
Hospital to pay daily overtime, higher percentage of health insurance in tentative 5-year agreement
Donna Stern, co-chair of the Massachusetts Nursing Association of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, speaks about the tentative agreement reached Friday, averting a strike by the nurses which was scheduled for Monday.
Chuck Gijanto, of the Baysate Franklin Medical Center, center, confers with Rep. Stephen Kulik and Sen Stan Rosenberg just prior to the press conference at the Hotel Northampton on Friday afternoon. Recorder/Paul Franz
GREENFIELD — On the brink of another nursing strike at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, hospital officials and nurses union leaders reached a tentative contract agreement on Friday that will end their 29-month standoff.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and Rep. Stephen Kulik orchestrated the 11th-hour negotiations in the Hotel Northampton, which lasted for about eight hours over the course of Thursday night and Friday afternoon. With a settlement in place, the nurses have called off the 24-hour strike that was scheduled to take place on Monday.
“Both parties made significant concessions to get to this point,” said hospital president Chuck Gijanto in the Hotel Northampton Grand Ballroom on Friday. “We are together. We are united. We are going to recommit to taking care of all of the patient needs in our community.”
“Now we can move forward and really go back to what we do best, which is take care of our patients,” said Donna Stern, co-chair of the local nurses union. The union, a part of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, represents all of the hospital’s approximately 190 nurses.
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the full nursing body, something that union leaders are fully confident will happen. The five-year contract will cover the past two years and extend through Dec. 31, 2016.
It includes a crucial compromise on overtime pay, the issue that had kept nurses and hospital leaders from settling a new contract.
The hospital will pay a nurse standard pay for up to one hour after the end of the individual’s scheduled shift. A nurse who works beyond that one-hour grace period will automatically earn time-and-a-half pay for all overtime hours.
Hospital officials had fought for two years to change to weekly overtime, which they said was a financial necessity, but conceded that the compromise will save at least some money. Nurses and hospital officials will, meanwhile, meet for five months on a new task force that will try to eliminate the routine need for overtime and therefore boost patient safety.
“We want the same thing,” said Stern. “I think the task force is really going to be a remarkable opportunity of how to figure it out, how to make sure nurses, at the end of their shift, get out.”
Other terms of the settlement include wage increases, which Gijanto said are on average 2 to 3 percent higher, and ratification bonuses. Baystate Health will also pay a higher percentage of a nurse’s family health insurance premium.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association will waive several charges of unfair labor practices it had filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. Baystate Franklin will rescind a declaration of impasse it made last month, when officials told nurses they’d begin immediately implementing their most recent proposal.
The threat of a second strike, which would have taken place about 16 months after the union’s 24-hour strike in fall 2012, brought about the legislative intervention. Rosenberg said he contacted both sides to return to the negotiating table, this time in Northampton. The Massachusetts Nurses Association also credited U.S. Rep. James McGovern and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey with applying added pressure on the situation.
“Instead of rehashing old news, we put a proposal on the table that was based on a proposal that had been discussed and put aside a year ago,” said Rosenberg. “We’re just really relieved that there won’t be another strike and people will be able to just focus on the work that they do, which is why they’re there.”
Rosenberg has full confidence that the two parties will be able to work together in the future.
“I saw them sitting there after the contract was signed. They were joking and having fun and you’d have thought, you know, they were out having a beer,” he said. “It was totally relaxed because the fight was over.”
Gijanto said only time will tell what the economic situation looks like when the contract is up for renewal. Still, he hopes that another prolonged contract negotiation can be avoided.
“Hospitals everywhere are really needing to look at how we (can) do ... business differently,” he said. “We’d like to do that in conjunction with our staff, including our nurses and our doctors and other employees at the hospital.
“It’s not something that’s happening (by) our design. It’s just the external environment,” he said. “I believe we’re going to come out of this stronger than we went into it ... and I would hope and want (in) 2017 to never have to go through this again.”
Nurses said Friday that at least one of their plans for Monday will still happen: a food drive at the hospital to donate to Community Action’s Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantry in Greenfield.
You can reach Chris Shores at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 264