Nurse Negotiations

Editorial: Missing from contract talks

“All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter,” said Edmund Burke in his “Speech on Conciliation with America,” given in 1775.

The Irish-born, English statesman’s thoughts could — and should — be readily applied to what’s happening now in the halls of Congress.

But, it’s the standoff between the management at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and the nurses union, where apparently there continues to be little, if any, give-and-take that would result in a compromise and allow an agreement for a new labor contract.

Instead, what the public is now seeing is an authorization of a strike by the nurses, a move designed to put pressure on hospital officials to change their stance. Hospital officials, however, say the threat of a strike won’t force them to budge from their position.

Although it remains up to the nurses’ negotiating team to determine whether such a labor action will happen, a strike, of perhaps one to three days, looks inevitable.

This isn’t particularly surprising, given how entrenched the two sides are over one issue — the requirement that the hospital pay overtime for consecutive hours worked beyond the end of an eight-, 10- or 12-hour shift. Baystate wants to change the overtime provision so that it starts after nurses reach a 40-hour workweek.

We can all understand the desire of hospital management to reduce overtime, to save tens of thousands of dollars.

However, the overtime pay per day is part of contracts used in 70 percent of the hospitals in the state, according to a joint press release from two nursing unions, the Massachusetts Nursing Association and National Nurses United.

Nationally, meanwhile, going to 40 hours before having overtime kick in is the standard set by U.S. Department of Labor.

The nurses argue that few of them actually work 40 hours a week and that, more importantly, the daily overtime agreement serves to help regulate the workday so that shifts are reasonable and patients are kept safe.

It’s all incredibly complicated. But for those sitting on the outside, it is about “compromise and barter,” where each sides gives something to get something.

Frankly, we’re not sure that this has taken place ... and we hate to see a strike, which usually results in harder feelings on both sides.

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