Nurses, hospital prepare for scheduled Friday strike
Deb Blakeney-Hayward, a nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, mans a table at the Greenfield High School during Tuesdays vote collecting signatures on their petition. May 1, 2012 Franz
GREENFIELD — With a Friday strike date fast approaching, Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses and hospital administrators met for three hours Wednesday night — but were unable to reach a settlement.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association bargaining unit still plans to go forward with a 24-hour strike, beginning Friday at 7 a.m. Nurses picketed Wednesday afternoon at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield in support of the strike.
The two sides have met 28 times since last October but have been unable to come to any resolution on the hospital’s overtime and sick policies — two points of debate that remain sticking points in negotiations.
Baystate Health administrators, faced with the task of reducing the health system’s budget by $120 million over the next three years, proposed a change to the hospital’s overtime policy.
Hospital administrators said that nurses are currently paid time-and-a-half, at a median pay of $60/hour, whenever they work beyond their regular scheduled shifts.
But administrators want to revise the policy so that overtime pay only kicks in after they work more than 40 hours — a change they said is in line with industry standards and will save the hospital $1.8 million this year.
The union has called the proposal “radical,” arguing that the change is both unfair and not safe. Out of 209 registered nurses, only nine are scheduled to work 40 hours in a week, they said.
“More than 99 percent of the nurses do not want to be working overtime. They do overtime because the job is unmanageable,” said Donna Stern, co-chair of the union. “It’s not OK that (hospital administrators) put the schedule out with holes. ... It’s not O.K. to not pay for it so that (they) can ignore the staffing problems.”
Chuck Gijanto, the hospital’s president, said he would hope that nurses would provide the same quality of care to patients regardless of whether they were getting their regular or overtime wage.
“What is interesting is that the nurses are, and have been, willing to work overtime – but they suddenly claim it is unsafe for patients if we don’t agree to pay them the way they want,” he said.
The hospital has offered a bonus pay for “critical” overtime slots. But the union said that this bonus amounts to very little money and would not reduce the financial losses brought forth by the change.
The union takes issue with the hospital’s sick policy, which they said hands out automatic disciplinary penalties after a nurse’s third sick day.
“There are people coming to work sick all the time for fear of retribution,” said Stern. “We’re front-of-the-line care workers, we’re exposed to everything under the sun. ... It’s not O.K. to give an employee a sick benefit and then punish them for using it.”
But Gijanto said the policy only exists to ensure that nurses do not call out sick repeatedly or at the last minute. Administrators said they would never force a sick nurse to work, or punish them for calling out of work.
“We have an attendance policy for all Baystate employees, so we can plan our staffing and ensure appropriate care for our patients,” he said. “As a matter of fact, Baystate’s attendance policy has been in place at BFMC for years — at least during the past three contracts, and the MNA has never mentioned this as an issue.”
Wage increases and health insurance
Nurses have said that although money is not a primary focus of their demands, they do want to maintain their rights to negotiate wages in the future — something they said hospital administrators have threatened to take away.
Hospital officials said Wednesday they have offered an average increase of 2 percent in the first year and 2.75 percent the second year. There would be a “wage re-opener” during the third year of a contract.
Stern said she has not heard those numbers during negotiation sessions.
With the wage re-opener, the hospital has “inched” closer to the nurses’ stance on the wage issue, she said. But there is no guarantee that the union’s collective bargaining rights won’t be stripped away with the signing of a new contract on the hospital’s terms, the union said.
The hospital has said that the debate over health insurance has been resolved, but Stern disagreed.
When it comes to health insurance, the union would love to be able to choose its own provider, but Stern said it’s now clear that that is impossible.
The union said that all employees must use Health New England — a health insurance provider owned by Baystate Health. She said the hospital has charged nurses up to $2,000 or $3,000 more than other employees.
“We’re getting closer to (consensus on insurance), but there has not been a tentative agreement,” said Stern.
Chris Shores can be reached at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261 x264