Childs/My Turn: At odds with the MNA
I have worked at Baystate Franklin Medical Center as a Registered Nurse for over 13 years, and for many of these I supported the nurses’ union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), and its attempts to work toward increasing benefits and supporting us as nurses.
I continue to hold great respect for unions at large, for all my nurse coworkers, as well as my managers and the hospital administration. However, due to the continued conflict between the MNA and administration at Franklin, it has become increasingly hard for me to maintain my support and membership in the nurses’ union.
Until recently I paid my union dues (about $1,000 a year) without regret. Since the MNA asked me to publicly strike last October, to refuse to work for a day, and to declare to the public that our hospital was both unfair and unsafe, I have felt morally unable to pay my dues. Not only have I felt uncomfortable with the way that the MNA has asked me to fight against my own hospital, but the lack of a settled contract has been repeatedly blamed on the administration. It takes two sides to settle a conflict.
I was too sick on the day of the strike to either strike or work, but it was then that it became clear to me that I could no longer pay for a service that I did not feel was working for me, but working against me and the hospital itself.
Since the strike, the MNA has continued to publicly declare that we, as a group of nurses, are treated unfairly and put in unsafe, even dangerous situations during our work day. I have never experienced unsafe or dangerous working conditions, have consistently been treated fairly, and have found the administration to be supportive and helpful through difficult family times, health problems, and multiple humanitarian trips to Haiti.
I believe that the most recent offer by the Baystate Franklin administration is more than fair. The nurses have been offered a monetary bonus to ratify the contract, a 4 percent raise, and an overtime compromise. For one year, nurses who work beyond the end of their shift will receive overtime pay. After one year, nurses will receive overtime after 40 hours in one week. This is consistent with other nurses within Baystate Health, as well as workers in other industries. Still the MNA will not settle.
In the current economic climate, and especially in light of recent layoffs at Franklin, overtime is not the most pressing issue. Nurses are frequently canceled due to low patient numbers. Those of us whose jobs have been spared are grateful.
I have valued the camaraderie that exists within Franklin. Throughout the past two years, however, the positive feeling at the workplace has changed. I have been asked by the MNA to accuse the hospital of being unfair, unsafe, and operating with bad faith. I do not believe that the dispute over overtime is worth the negativity that now exists. We nurses at Franklin have gone two years with no raise, no contract, while the MNA makes it clear the contract will not be settled without this overtime pay. These are not issues of safety or fairness.
Franklin is a loving and safe place to bring your families and loved ones for health care, and I am proud to work here. I have seen the attempts to recruit more doctors to provide services Franklin County needs.
I have attempted to attend MNA meetings and voice my concerns about the contract dispute. I have felt intimidated and been treated with outright hostility for voicing my views to the body that is supposed to represent me as a Baystate Franklin nurse. Continually voicing publicly the disagreement between the MNA and Baystate Franklin has only served to whittle away public trust in the hospital.
As a result of my stance to stop paying my union dues, the MNA is now urging the administration to have my employment terminated. I cannot in good conscience contribute to the union after the negative way I have been treated when I have expressed disagreement with their actions, and after the way that they have represented the hospital to the public. If the MNA agrees to compromise and represent all the nurses at Baystate Franklin, I plan to resume payment of my dues.
I urge the MNA to reach out to its constituents with an open mind. I believe that many nurses support the current proposals the hospital has put forward to settle our contract, and if the union can ask, without attempting to influence the response, they will find broad support for settling the contract. With the contract settled, we can move Baystate Franklin Medical Center forward in a positive direction.
Alison Childs is a Registered Nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.