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Nurse Negotiations

Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses ratify new contract

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses unanimously voted Thursday to ratify a new contract that will maintain daily overtime through 2016 and end their 29-month standoff with the hospital.

The agreement that ultimately broke the deadlock, and averted a 24-hour strike that had been scheduled Monday, was set into motion last week by state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg. He brought the parties back to the table to discuss a proposal that was floated months ago and then discarded: a compromise that will save the hospital about 65 percent of its overtime expenses.

Both hospital officials and nurses say that about two out of every three overtime occurrences fall within the first hour after the scheduled end of a shift. A new one-hour grace period — where nurses are paid straight time if they work less than one hour of overtime — will save the hospital at least $65,000 each year.

That’s a relatively small amount of money, said Baystate Health vice president Steven Bradley. But it’s one of many cost-saving measures, totaling $120 million a year, that the health system needs to make to keep up with the ever-changing healthcare landscape.

The contract also keeps safeguards in place, say nurses and their Massachusetts Nurses Association representatives. They were concerned that in a weekly overtime model, hospital officials would have nothing to prevent them from routinely understaffing and forcing nurses to work longer hours, which they said could become a patient safety issue.

It also states that the hospital pledges to follow a state law banning mandatory overtime. Hospital officials can only force nurses to work overtime during special emergency situations and must first make a “good faith effort” to have overtime covered on a voluntary basis.

Both Bradley and Donna Stern, a leader in the local nurses union, say they are committed to work that will come out of an overtime task force — which will spend the next five months figuring out how the hospital can reduce its routine need for overtime altogether.

Legislative involvement

Bradley said he’s routinely talked with Rosenberg, Rep. Stephen Kulik and other state legislators about how negotiations were progressing.

With federal legislators telling hospital officials that they expected the contract to “be settled sooner rather than later,” Bradley said that his call with Rosenberg during the first weekend in February centered around what could be done to avoid another nursing strike.

Rosenberg, with the help of Kulik, spent the next several days talking with both hospital officials and nurses, to see if they were willing to return to the negotiation table. He and Kulik worked on the overtime grace-period proposal, which would serve as a compromise between the status quo of daily overtime pay and the hospital’s desire to switch to a weekly model.

“Legislators have to be very careful not to intervene in a situation … until and unless it reaches a point where the situation rises to a new level,” said Rosenberg. “A second strike is a very significant situation.”

A meeting was scheduled for Feb. 6 in the Hotel Northampton. Hospital officials were happy to meet in a location other than Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church, where they had negotiated unsuccessfully over 40 times. And nurses were pleased to see Baystate Franklin president Chuck Gijanto in attendance and hospital lawyers from Jackson Lewis nowhere in sight.

Rosenberg, who began Thursday’s conversation but then stepped back to let the two parties negotiate, said he knew within a half hour that an agreement could be reached.

Stern said that the conversation “really became what we always wanted ... truly a negotiation.”

Rosenberg’s presence set a tone for the conversation that hadn’t existed during the past years of negotiation, said Bradley.

“There was almost no grandstanding going on,” he said. “People realized this was a serious statewide leader that had offered (his) time and expertise. ... (We) realized this was an opportunity to put this behind us.”

Terms of agreement

Once the overtime compromise had been struck, the rest of the details fell into place.

Because nurses did not receive wage increases the past two years, they’ll now see an increase of 4 percent and more. On average, nurses received between 2 and 3 percent an increase per year — and they’ll see raises of at least 2 percent more before the contract expires on Dec. 31, 2016.

Baystate Franklin will pay a higher percentage on some nurses’ health plans — increases that officials say will put nurses’ benefits in line with the rest of the hospital’s employees.

Nurses — who had already received bonuses between $500 and $1,000 when the hospital declared an impasse last month — will now see another share of bonuses headed their way.

The contract also includes an HIV insurance policy, where nurses will receive $100,000 if they contract the virus on the job. Previously, the hospital covered medical expenses and leave time.

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