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Nurse Negotiations

Hospital declares impasse in negotiations

Will make immediate changes to way it pays nurses; union leaders outraged

GREENFIELD — There has been no resolution in the 28-month negotiations between Baystate Franklin Medical Center and its nursing staff, but the hospital declared an impasse Tuesday and said it will immediately put into effect changes it has sought through contract talks.

In implementing Baystate Franklin’s most recent contract proposal to the nurses union, the hospital will transition the overtime pay structure from daily to weekly by year’s end. And while contract negotiations will continue, nurses will see increases in their paychecks immediately and will all receive bonuses between $500 and $1,000.

Union leaders expressed outrage at the announcement and said they plan to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to stop Baystate Health. The Massachusetts Nurses Association said that nurses will meet later this week to discuss their options and those talks will almost certainly include a conversation about whether to call for a three-day strike against the hospital.

The two sides have met 42 times since October 2011 but have been unable to agree on a new contract that is now two years overdue. Nurses want to continue receiving time-and-a-half pay for any hours beyond their daily scheduled shifts. The hospital wants to change to a weekly model, where bonus pay would only kick in after 40 hours.

“We believe that we’re hopelessly deadlocked on the issue of daily overtime,” said Baystate Franklin president Chuck Gijanto. He said that the hospital wanted to help out nurses caught in the middle of the labor dispute — which has escalated over time into a battle between the parent organizations of both local players, the state nurses association and the Baystate health system.

Wages will increase immediately by approximately 3.25 percent, plus additional step increases determined by nurses’ seniority, the hospital said. Ratification bonuses will also be given out, even though a contract has not been agreed upon.

Nurse leaders did not view the gesture in the same light, arguing that Baystate Health is unjustly taking away their right to negotiate a settlement.

“It is outrageous that management would rather spend its resources to break the law instead of negotiating in good faith, as we are trying to do, to reach a settlement,” said nurse union leader Donna Stern. “We have even offered to put the outstanding issues before an independent arbitrator to reach a decision, yet Baystate has refused that offer and is now trying to unlawfully implement a set of their proposals.”

Linda Judd, another leader of the local bargaining unit, said that nurses don’t want to strike, but may have no other choice. In October, a majority of the nurses voted overwhelmingly in support of a three-day strike against the hospital, giving union leaders the power to play that card at any time.

Implementing the changes

Although there is still no contract and the Massachusetts Nurses Association plans to fight the impasse decision, the hospital will begin implementing changes immediately.

From now until Dec. 6, a one-hour grace period will be in place after a nurse’s scheduled shift. A nurse who works 45 minutes beyond the end of the scheduled shift, for instance, will be paid straight time.

But once a nurse crosses that one-hour threshold, he or she will receive time-and-a-half pay for the total time; nurses who work 90 minutes of overtime will receive 90 minutes of overtime pay.

On Dec. 7, the grace period goes away and nurses will only receive overtime pay when they work beyond 40 hours in a week. About 30 percent of the hospital’s nurses are scheduled to work beyond 32 hours in a week — the point at which benefits kick in.

A statement by the Massachusetts Nurses Association about the impasse did not address whether nurses or nurse leaders would refuse the salary increases and the ratification bonuses. Spokesman David Schildmeier declined to answer the question twice when asked by a reporter on Tuesday.

Still, nurses have said all along that their fight with the hospital is not about pay but about hospital accountability. Nurses contend that without daily overtime pay in place, hospital managers will be able to use overtime as a tool to intentionally under-staff nursing shifts.

But Gijanto said that the hospital wants to reduce overtime, too.

“We value our nurses and the last thing we want to do is schedule them so many hours that they don’t have a quality of life,” he said. “That doesn’t help us, that doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help our patients.”

During contract talks, both sides have floated the idea of an overtime task force consisting of hospital staff and nurses who would work together on reducing the need for overtime. Gijanto said Tuesday that if the nurses still wanted to start the effort, the hospital would jump on board immediately.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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