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Nurse Negotiations

Nurses begin 24-hour strike

GREENFIELD — After a year of failed contract negotiations, fueled by debate over hospital policies and negotiation rights, the Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses intend to strike today.

Unless an 11th-hour settlement was reached after press time — something neither side expects to happen — the nurses will begin their 24-hour strike at 7 a.m. today. They will picket in front of the hospital, joined by other members of their union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The union said the strike is only one day so that administrators would know the nurses were serious about their demands, but so that patient safety would not be jeopardized. Nurses are planning to return to work at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

“We don’t want to be out of the hospital on strike but if we were to accept Baystate’s proposals it would lead to very unsafe situations for our patients,” said Linda Judd, co-chair of the nurses union. “In good conscience at this point we have no other choice but to hold our one-day strike.”

Hospital administrators said that since the Aug. 30 strike authorization vote, the nurses have shown no interest in reaching a settlement.

“We need constructive discussions at the table, and the MNA is not interested in engaging with us to get the job done and settle this contract,” said Chuck Gijanto, the hospital’s president. “We have made offers, they are not making counter offers, and we cannot bargain against ourselves.”

Points of debate

Negotiations began in October 2011, two months before the end of the nurses’ contract.

Since then, the two sides have met 28 times, unable to find any middle ground on debates over the hospital’s overtime and sick time policies.

Nurses — the majority of whom work fewer than 40 hours in a week — want to maintain the current policy on overtime, which pays time-and-a-half any time they work beyond regular scheduled shifts.

But Baystate Health administrators, looking to find ways to reduce the health system’s budget by $120 million over the next three years, want to revise the policy. Bonus pay would only kick in when nurses work their 41st hour in a week — a practice officials say is an industry standard.

Nurses sometimes work up to 16 hours in a day to cover holes in the schedule, the union said. They believe they should be compensated for the extra daily labor, but hospital officials said this is not a fiscal reality.

The nurses also take issue with the hospital’s sick policy, which they say automatically hands out progressive disciplinary actions when a nurse calls in sick for the fourth time.

The policy has caused some nurses to come to work sick, for fear of retribution, the union said.

Hospital officials contested this claim, and said they would never force nurses to come into work sick, or punish them for calling out. The policy is in place, officials said, so that nurses do not abuse the system and repeatedly call out without warning, placing undue burden on their coworkers.

The two sides have also disagreed over wage increases and the hospital’s health insurance policy.

The union wants to be able to maintain the right to negotiate in the future and fear the hospital’s proposals will take this opportunity away from them.

But hospital officials believe they have offered a fair and comprehensive package. And they said that nurses already receive competitive salaries, with a median pay of $78,856.

The union has disputed that median salary figure.

Hospital remaining open

Using nurses from elsewhere in the Baystate Health system, the hospital will be able to keep all but two of its departments operational on Friday.

The intensive care unit will be closed because of inadequate staffing, but the hospital plans to transfer patients in need of this care to other hospitals. The mental health unit stopped accepting new patients earlier this week and transferred current patients to other hospitals.

The surgery and endoscopy services are only open for emergencies, and the outpatient oncology department will also have limited operation.

All other departments — including the emergency department, “The Birthplace,” medical-surgical inpatient units and all ancillary services — will remain open Friday.

Parking is open at the High Street and Sanderson Street lots, but the area on Beacon Street will be closed.

The cafeteria will be open, but the gift shop will be closed.

And the hospital will step up its security presence Friday. Police officers will be stationed throughout the hospital building and grounds.

Chris Shores can be reached at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 264

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