No Thanksgiving nurse strike; union, hospital continue talks
GREENFIELD — It looks like Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses will spend their Thanksgiving holidays either working or with their families — but not on the picket lines during a strike, as rumored.
While Massachusetts Nurses Association leaders are authorized to give strike notice at any time (with a 10-day advance warning), they weren’t ready to do so at Monday’s negotiation session with the hospital.
“We’re not going to make a decision during this very busy period of the holiday week,” said local union co-leader Donna Stern. “We’ll be looking at all of our options following Thanksgiving.”
For two years, nurses and hospital leaders have clashed on whether to keep daily overtime pay or switch to a weekly model where bonus pay would kick in after 40 hours.
There appears to be no real movement toward resolution.
The union wants an independent arbitrator to settle the case but the hospital is not interested. Both parties continue to disagree over how to best approach mediation, including the extent to which a federal mediator has been involved in discussions.
“The MNA clings to a single issue straight from the agenda of its out-of-state parent, National Nurses United — preservation of daily overtime for any work past the end of a scheduled shift,” said Baystate Franklin president Chuck Gijanto.
“We believe we’re in the majority in Franklin County when we say we want to put this dispute behind us,” he said. “We’re beginning to seriously doubt that the MNA does.”
But Stern says that in order for that to happen, hospital officials need to meet the union halfway — something she doesn’t believe has occurred so far.
“Management has said several times in the newspaper, through their emails at work, through their blogs that they’re very open to mediation,” she said.
“(But) the message is, ‘They want to explore mediation, as long as we agree with everything they say,’” said Stern. “That’s their form of mediation and that’s perplexing to us.”
The hospital says it needs to change to a weekly model to save costs. Officials made a “last, best and final offer” to the nurses this summer that would delay the start of weekly overtime until December 2014 (with a one-hour overtime grace period until then).
Gijanto has repeatedly requested the union to allow all of its nurses to vote on the proposal. According to Stern, all nurses who pay their full dues to the union were given the opportunity to review the hospital’s proposal and elected instead to pursue arbitration. She said that all but five or six of the hospital’s 185 registered nurses pay their full dues to the union and are allowed to vote on proposals.
On Monday, she said that the union has proposed a plan that also included the one-hour grace period but did not phase out daily overtime. Aside from that major difference (about whether or not to transition into a weekly overtime system) there’s also a slight difference in how nurses would be paid during the first hour.
In the union’s plan, nurses would always be paid their regular rate for the first hour of overtime and then time-and-a-half after that.
In the hospital’s plan, nurses who work up to one hour of overtime would be paid their regular hourly rate. But nurses who work more than one hour would be paid time-and-a-half for all overtime worked.
It has been over a month since nurses voted to authorize a three-day strike against the hospital and nurse leaders can play that card at any time.
Last year, nurses waited 21 days after an authorization vote before notifying the hospital of an Oct. 5 strike. Although the union was only obligated to give 10 days’ notice, it gave the hospital 15 days of warning for that strike.
You can reach Chris Shores at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264