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Nurse Negotiations

Nurses to vote Tuesday on another strike

GREENFIELD — The Massachusetts Nurses Association has organized a strike authorization vote for next Tuesday, which would give union leaders the green light to organize another strike in the future against Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

Nurses will vote for or against a strike and indicate if they would support extending the strike to two days or three. A 24-hour strike last October was not enough to force hospital officials to change their stance on overtime pay, which has been the decisive issue in this two-year contract dispute.

“The last thing we want is a strike,” said nurse Linda Judd, co-chair of the local bargaining unit. “All the nurses want this over now. None of us want to continue in the confrontation we’ve been in with Baystate Health system.”

But the hospital and nurses have clashed over the extent that a federal mediator has been used during the past year of negotiations. And the union’s proposal that an independent arbitrator make a final, binding decision on the dispute was rejected by hospital officials.

“Putting these decisions in the hands of an unknown party that (has) no background and no experience with what’s going on here specifically ... you get an arbitrary decision,” said Chuck Gijanto, the hospital’s president. “They give a thumbs up or thumbs down and there’s no room for any compromise.”

So while union leaders say they’d immediately end any talk of a strike if the hospital considered arbitration, hospital officials believe the discussion must continue at the bargaining table. The strike vote, whatever the outcome, won’t produce any good results and won’t change the hospital’s positions, said Gijanto.

The debate surrounding overtime — whether it will continue at the status quo of daily bonus pay or switch to a weekly model which would kick in after nurses work more than 40 hours — has prevented the sides from reaching agreement.

But the nurses are hoping that the threat of a strike will be enough to rally elected officials and people from the community to put pressure on the hospital to concede.

During last year’s strike, hospital officials were able to use nurses from within the Baystate Health system, who were familiar with the hospital’s computer system. Tensions were high and security was ramped up during the one-day strike, but otherwise things proceeded as normal in terms of patient care.

While Gijanto said the hospital will be prepared for another strike, it may not be as easy to enlist the services of other Baystate Health nurses this year. Baystate Medical Center has had a surge of patients in recent weeks, he said, and the hospital may have to look instead to an outside agency for support.

If the nurses vote in favor of a strike on Tuesday, union leaders can play that card at any time. But they have to give the hospital 10 days notice before the strike and they have to be explicit about the number of days it will last.

Judd said there is no plan in place for when a strike would happen and that nurses are united in wanting an arbitrator to make a ruling to end the dispute.

“We would welcome settling it at the table, but after two years we feel that ... just doesn’t seem to be happening,” she said.

Gijanto, meanwhile, wishes the union would let nurses vote on the hospital’s most recent proposal — where daily overtime would continue until December 2014 (save for a one-hour grace period) before switching to the weekly model.

“If they speak ‘yes,’ then we go forward. If they speak ‘no,’ then we have our answer from the nurses,” he said.

And according to Gijanto, nurses and the hospital are currently unable to meet with federally appointed mediator Joe Dubin because he has been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

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

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