RNs at Nashoba Valley Medical Center to Hold Informational Picket on Aug. 5

Outrage over wage inequity, inconsistent and unreliable scheduling of shifts, and the resulting rate of turnover in staff lead nurses to picket line

Aug 03, 2015, 14:35 ET from Massachusetts Nurses Association

AYER, Mass., Aug. 3, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by Massachusetts Nurses Association:

When: Wednesday, Aug. 5, 3:30 - 5 p.m.

Where: In front of the hospital at 200 Groton Road; Ayer, Mass.

Who: The nurses of Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), and their families, friends, and neighbors; community leaders and activists; local union members and labor supporters

More than a year after first voting to organize with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the registered nurses at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer are holding an informational picket on Wed., August 5 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in front of the hospital at 200 Groton Road.

The key issues that have led to the nurses' first informational picket include:

  • Tremendous wage inequities

    The MNA nurses at NVMC are currently paid, on average, 40 percent less than their nursing counterparts at all other area hospitals. Meanwhile, NVMC's corporate owner, Steward Health Care System, reported that the hospital made a profit of more than $3 million in calendar 2014. "What we are asking for is not extravagant," said Sue Fluet, RN and co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit at Nashoba. "We have offered management a wage proposal that will be an improvement for our nurses, but it will still not put us on par with what nurses throughout the region make. Yet, management insists on maintaining our disturbingly low wages and justifies it by saying we are just a 'rural' hospital. But we do not provide 'rural' care, we provide the highest quality care. And we believe that a hospital that turns such impressive profits can afford to pay its nurses a fair wage."

  • Serious problems with the scheduling and reliability of nurses' shifts

    Hospital management has long maintained a scheduling system they call "COD," or "convenience of the director." This system essentially empowers managers to change nurses' regularly scheduled shifts at any moment — from canceling shifts all together and at the last minute, to sending nurses home mid-shift but still expecting them to remain "on-call" [at $2.50 an hour]. These practices have long wreaked havoc on nurses' personal lives and livelihoods. "Under the current conditions, there is often no way for a nurse at NVMC to plan for childcare or to plan for their own time away from work," explained Fluet. "So a nurse who was hired to work 32 hours per week may be told to go home in the middle of a shift due to low census, resulting in only 25 hours of work that week. If that nurse wants a full pay check, he or she is forced to use their own time from their vacation, personal, or holiday benefits. This makes it hard for RNs to plan for their financial obligations and to manage their personal lives. It is stressful and it is demoralizing, and it makes people decide not to work here."

    RNs have described receiving calls in the middle of the night or when they are on vacation urging them to return to work as there are frequently too few nurses to fill a routine schedule at the hospital. Nurses are also told not to take vacations of more than a week, so that they are never too far away from the hospital to be called back to fill a schedule hole — holes that are sometimes known by management weeks in advance. Meanwhile, in some departments, nurses are essentially on-call all the time if they are not already in the hospital working their regular shifts.

    Management enforces a policy whereby shifts can be cancelled without compensation, but then they can call nurses in for unscheduled shifts without paying overtime [because of a practice unusual among Massachusetts hospitals where Steward does not pay daily overtime].

  • The hospital's inability to recruit and retain new RNs

    With pay rates for nurses far below what other area hospitals offer, coupled with the total unpredictability in scheduling, it comes as no surprise to Fluet and her colleagues that the turnover rate for nurses at NVMC is alarmingly high. "There is one department in the hospital that has seen 100 percent turnover since it was opened," described Fluet. "This puts tremendous strain on us to provide the best care possible, because there is either an endless rotation of staff or there just isn't ever enough staff to even make a staffing schedule."

    Fleut, in regards to the hospital's ability to retain RNs, went on to say, "After being hired and working here for a year, why would a new grad choose to continue his or her career with NVMC? They can get better wages, normal scheduling, and a better quality of life just a few short miles up the road. Here they are treated more like indentured servants than anything else."

    An analysis conducted by the MNA shows that of the MNA member RNs living in Ayer and the six surrounding towns, 79 percent of them opt for longer commutes and work at hospitals much further away, instead of working closer to home at NVMC. Added Fluet, "That's such a shame because this is our community hospital. We are so dedicated to caring for our neighbors. But something has to be done so that RNs come to work here, and then stay working here."

The RNs at Nashoba voted to join the MNA on July 24, 2014, although bargaining did not get underway until November 24 of that year. Fourteen negotiation sessions have been held to date. At the request of the MNA, a federal mediator began attending bargaining sessions in May.

Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest professional health care organization and 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. The MNA is a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses' union in the United States with more than 170,000 members from coast to coast.

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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association