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Nurse Negotiations

Judd and Stern/My Turn: Motivated by patient safety

Recently, we attended the annual state convention of our nursing association along with 250 colleagues from across Massachusetts.

The closing event was a presentation by a panel of eight nurses from Boston hospitals who were working in emergency departments, operating rooms and the medical tent on Boylston Street on Marathon Day last April. As they related the events of the day, a picture unfolded of the heroism, teamwork, deep empathy and skill that resulted in saving dozens and dozens of lives. By the end of the presentation, there was not a dry eye in the room of experienced and seasoned nurses.

Our work at Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC) may never capture center stage or have the dramatic elements that were so visibly on display that day in Boston, but our calling and commitment is the same. The 185 registered nurses at BFMC (along with all our colleagues) are deeply committed to our calling as skilled healers and empathetic caregivers. That is why the decision by our fellow nurses to authorize a second strike at BFMC was such a difficult and momentous decision.

Let’s be clear. We do not want to strike. We want to be at our patients’ bedsides, caring for them and their families as they struggle with sickness and healing. However, Baystate has been insistent on stripping away a fundamental protection for our practice and for patient safety.

For many decades, it has been a hospital industry standard to pay nurses overtime pay if they must work beyond their regularly scheduled eight-, 10- or 12-hour shift. The reason for this practice is to create a disincentive for managers to use overtime as a staffing tool. Countless studies support what common sense dictates — a nurse who is working beyond her/his already lengthy shift is subject to fatigue and more prone to make an error. In a hospital setting, this jeopardizes safe patient care. That is why although we do not want to strike, we will if we have to, in order to protect our practice and our patients.

We have been clear with Baystate management. We want to work together to eliminate daily overtime. Baystate however, simply wants to eliminate overtime pay and thereby remove the financial disincentive that curbs managers from using prolonged shifts as a substitute for safe staffing.

We don’t want a strike. That is why we have proposed that Baystate joins us in submitting these negotiations to a mutually acceptable arbitrator for a binding ruling on the resolution of these matters. We are confident in our position. However, we are willing to forgo a strike if Baystate agrees to join us and we will live by an arbitrator’s ruling, regardless of the outcome.

At this point, only Baystate can avoid a strike. They can do so by either agreeing to maintain the long-established industry standard, or by agreeing to submit our respective positions to arbitration. Baystate’s managers come and go, their policies change and shift, but we and our colleagues plan to be at our community hospital day in and day out for years to come, just as we have for so many years already. We ask all concerned residents of Franklin County to call on Baystate to resolve this dispute today. That way our days can be spent caring for you inside the hospital instead of advocating for you on the streets outside.

Linda Judd has been a nurse at BFMC for 38 years and is senior co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit. Donna Stern has been a nurse at BFMC for 8 years and is junior co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit.

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