Two weeks ago, the MNA members at Morton held a successful and well-attended rally where they called on Steward to "keep it promises," asking specifically that the corporate owner adhere to the current contract language that limits the number of patients an RN is allowed to care for at one time and to bargain a new contract fairly, without delays and in good faith. Other broken promises that were highlighted at the rally, which was attended by both city and state officials, included Steward's failure to maintain existing services after it bought the hospital and instead shut down the pediatric unit, and its failure to maintain a specific pediatric area in the emergency department staffed with RNs specialized in pediatric emergency care. Steward has also failed to keep a promise it made to staff this past May, which was to have a security guard on duty 24 hours a day in the emergency department. Without explanation, management discontinued the practice.
"We fought long and hard for those promises," said Jacqui Fitts, co-chairperson of Morton's MNA bargaining unit and an RN in labor and delivery. "And we also fought long and hard for our last contract. In that contract we won important language that set a safe limit on the number of patients an RN can care for at a given time."
"By signing that contract, Steward made a promise to follow those limits," added Fitts. "Yet, on a daily basis, Steward breaks that promise. Instead, we regularly carry patient assignments that are too large to be safe."
With contract negotiations, Steward has a legal obligation under the National Labor Relations Act to bargain in good faith. Yet the Morton RNs and HPCs have watched as their colleagues at other Steward facilities — from those in the Merrimack Valley to those in central Massachusetts — have been railroaded into languishing, unproductive contract talks by Steward. On average, it has taken the MNA 18 months to negotiate a settlement with the for-profit health care chain, resulting in considerable lost wage and benefit enhancements for staff.
"There is now a long-standing pattern of Steward delaying negotiations," explained Allison Gomes, bargaining unit secretary at Morton and an RN in the emergency department. "We know from our colleagues at other Steward facilities that management delays the start of negotiations. They delay coming to the table on time when there is actually a session scheduled. They delay getting us the information we need in order to hold productive talks. And they delay making real progress at the table."
Added Gomes, "If these negotiations are respectful and in good faith so that we can reach an agreement before the contract expires on December 31, nothing would make us happier. But we are going to work towards the best and be prepared for the worst, because on several occasions just in the last year and a half, the MNA has had to file unfair labor practice charges against Steward with the National Labor Relations Board at other hospitals over bargaining in bad faith."
Contract negotiations at Morton are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 12. Yesterday's preemptive vote was historic for the MNA in that it is the first time a bargaining unit has taken a strike authorization vote prior to the start of contract talks. While the vote does not mean the staff will strike immediately, it gives the nurses' negotiating committee authorization to call a one-day strike if/when they feel it is necessary following the current contract's Dec. 31, 2016 expiration date. Should the committee issue an official notice to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses and HCPs go out.
"We can't stand by and let another round of negotiations unfold this way," explained Fitts. "That is why we took this first-of-its-kind vote: because we need to keep protecting our patients and the community by holding Steward to its promises. And because pushing Steward to bargain in good faith and in a timely fashion will allow us to negotiate language that benefits everyone: patients, RNs, HPCs, and the community."
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.
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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association