In The Arena

In the Arena: Holiday walkout?

Monday may wind up being “D-Day” in terms of a second potential strike involving union nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

Union representatives and management will go back to the bargaining table that day in the hopes of settling their two-plus-year-old contract dispute. And if a deal doesn’t get done, don’t be surprised if, once again, we see picket lines outside Franklin County’s only hospital — but this time during the holidays.

“We continue to be very open to negotiating and settling this contract at the bargaining table,” union spokeswoman Donna Stern, RN, said. “We support the mediator’s efforts to bring forward new ideas and still very support the idea of settling this dispute through arbitration.”

The same cannot be said for Baystate management, which says the latest contract proposal is their last, and best, offer.

“We’re not about to have an arbiter judge the progressivity of our contract offer,” Baystate Director of Governmental Relations Steven Bradley said.

Bradley also believes that the hospital’s nurses are being used as pawns in a much larger chess match being played by federal union officials and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

“If it was just left up to us to negotiate with our nurses locally, we believe we would have resolved this two years ago,” Bradley said. “But now it’s become a national issue and a state issue with the MNA and it’s more important to them to win than it is to reach a fair understanding.”

If the nurses decide to strike next week, they must give the hospital a minimum of 10 days notice — which could, conceivably, mean a Thanksgiving walkout, which I’m guessing won’t be pleasant for either side — and certainly not the patients they both clearly care so much about.

The mayor’s reaction

Sometimes in politics, the best shot is the one not taken.

That was my first reaction to last Saturday’s Recorder article in which Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin chose to very publicly question the Town Council’s decision to push passage of an ordinance protecting Native American burial grounds — which are already covered by existing state and federal laws.

“A resolution is a request — I could understand that if the council wants to show support,” Martin said. “An ordinance is a law. Why would Greenfield need another layer of bureaucracy if there are already other laws in place?”

Essentially, Martin is correct, because there isn’t any ordinance the council could pass that would be able to supersede existing state and federal laws — one of many points the council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee has been grappling with almost since the idea was presented.

Choosing to point that fact out as he did may not have been Martin’s best play because it turns another simple policy disagreement into an opportunity for the council to dig in its collective political heels again.

And it’s not like there won’t be more than a few members of this council who will be ready to embrace this idea, not only because its political correctness, but also because it has the potential to restrict large-scale development all across Greenfield — especially along the French King Highway near the White Ash Swamp.

Talk about a “win-win.”

A POW reminder

If you see a group of people huddled in front of a tree on Greenfield’s Veterans Mall a week from next Saturday, there is a reason.

Every 30th day of the month, a group of Greenfield residents and officials led by Mayor Martin take part in a “yellow ribbon” ceremony in honor of Bo Berghdal, the only American POW now being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Berghdal was captured on June 30, 2009, after walking away from his unit without a weapon, after reportedly becoming disillusioned with the U.S. war effort. Martin says the circumstances of his capture should not be anywhere near as important as his safe return.

“When we did the final negotiation in Vietnam, we left 2,500 POWs behind,” Martin said this week. “We are about to leave Afghanistan with our military, but we can’t do that and leave a solider there.”

Martin said the hope is that the monthly ceremonies will keep Berghdal’s plight uppermost in the minds of political officials in Washington and encourage them to make his release part of the final negotiation terms of any U.S. withdrawal.

Let’s hope, for Berghdal’s sake, they aren’t just wasting their time.

Taking the oath of office

If you get some time this afternoon, stop down at the John W. Olver Transportation Center for the 3 p.m. swearing-in of new Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh, who begins his new duties this week after coming over from Orange. This afternoon’s ceremony presents a chance for residents to welcome their new Civil Service chief before he works to tackle the crime-and-punishment issues facing what is swiftly becoming one of the most “citified” small towns in Massachusetts.

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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