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In The Arena

In the Arena: Offer they could refuse

I was surprised and mildly hopeful this past week to hear of a potential settlement to the contract battle between union nurses and management at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association issued a press release announcing that Baystate rank-and-file nurses had voted to accept a proposal to settle their 24-month long contract dispute through binding arbitration.

“Baystate has been saying for over a year that they believe their proposal is fair and consistent with industry standards,” registered nurse and union spokeswoman Donna Stern said. “If they really believe what they have been saying to the nurses and the public, they should join us in submitting our proposal to an arbitrator for a final and binding resolution of these negotiations.”

But whatever glimmer of hope I may have had for a settlement quickly ended once I got management’s side of the story.

“The proposal that they referenced in their press release was never formal, it was done off the record,” Baystate Franklin President Chuck Gijanto said. “We indicated that we were not in favor of it because we’ve already been working with a mediator for 16 months. We suggested using that mediator more in our negotiations, but we got no answer back from the union.”

Gijanto said there may be a reason why the union decided to present binding mediation as a formal proposal.

“We are very close to reaching an impasse and if they had made that suggestion on the record, it would signify that the parties are at loggerheads,” Gijanto said. “So they chose to do it off the record, but release it as if it wasn’t.”

“It’s a bit of gamesmanship, and it doesn’t really do much to move the negotiations forward,” Gijanto added.

I expect this to be a hot topic of conversation when the two sides are scheduled to get together on Sept. 25.

A sinking feeling

Could the recent Detroit bankruptcy be a harbinger of things to come for Greenfield?

At-Large Town Councilor Dalton Athey III clearly thinks that is a possibility as he implored officials at the most recent council meeting to begin taking seriously the projected $800 million in state pension obligations that the town is about to get socked with over the next two decades.

“What others are doing is less relevant than what is the right thing to do,” Athey said. “And I have a feeling what other people are doing is kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Athey has been accused of crying budget wolf before, but this time, he may be onto something. Therefore, it may behoove Greenfield’s number crunchers to take this issue a little more seriously before they wind up looking down the barrel at a $2.5 million override like their counterparts in Northampton did this spring.

Impact far and wide

There’s not much I can add to the many tributes regarding the late James “Bucky” O’Brien, who passed away this week at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer.

Though best known as the long-time pro at the Country Club of Greenfield, Bucky’s impact on the community went far beyond his ability to put a ball in a golf hole. A lot of young people learned many life lessons working alongside the man, including my nephew, Andrew Jacobs, who developed a strong work ethic during his time with Bucky. He’s managed to parlay that sense of responsibility into a burgeoning career in the transportation industry — while becoming, in my opinion, the best golfer in the family.

It’s ironic that Bucky chose this week to leave us, almost on the eve of the Barber/Collins golf tournament he helped establish in honor of his late friends Wayne Barber and my father, Ralph Collins. It’s tough to think of Bucky without thinking of my dad, and that is especially true after what ended up being my most memorable encounter with him, that happened two years ago this weekend.

I had just been released from the hospital and my first trip out included a stop at the Country Club. The first person to greet me was Bucky, who wrapped me up in a big bear hug.

“You had us scared there kid,” he said, nearly busting my stitches. “Please don’t ever do that again.”

Bucky always said he was an avid reader of this column and used to watch my TV show, but this had a different feel altogether. It was as if he was giving me the hug Ralph would have had he been there to do it himself. I’ve never forgotten that moment. Nor will I ever forget what he has done for our family over the years.

Rest easy, Bucky. You will never be far from our thoughts, especially at those special times when summer melts into fall.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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