PATIENT SAFETY AND QUALITY OF LIFE AT STAKE
The registered nurses of the North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH) voted overwhelmingly July 19 to authorize their union leadership to call a strike if necessary in their ongoing negotiations with hospital management. In a unified show of strength, 99% of the voting members voted in favor of the strike authorization.
“With this vote, the nurses at this hospital have sent a clear message. We are ready and willing to strike in the defense of our patients, our profession and the future of quality health care at NARH,” said Ruth O’Hearn, RN, a nurse in the ICU and co-chairperson of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) local bargaining unit at NARH. “We entered these negotiations with the understanding that the hospital is in a difficult financial position. In that spirit we didn’t ask for a wage increase and since then have dropped any proposal that would cost the hospital money. They have responded to this olive branch with a hammer. The hospital has refused to remove any of their proposals that would radically gut our contract, allow them to undermine our nursing practice and totally control our lives.”
“The hospital’s proposals would have a disastrous effect on the quality of patient care. Under their plan NARH once again would be allowed to use mandatory OT to staff the hospital, and patient care would suffer. NARH also wants to eliminate contract language that allows a nurse to decline overtime if she is exhausted or sick. As experienced professional caregivers we know when we are unable to care for our patients, but the managers seem to think they know more than we do,” said Mary McConnell, RN and a nurse in the PACU and Co-Chair of the bargaining unit.
“We are first and foremost advocates for our patients and management is seeking to take that away. They want a gag order that would stifle any negative comments, as defined by management. This would mean a nurse wouldn’t be able to even write a letter to the editor without fear of losing her/his job. For patients, this means nurses will be prohibited from speaking out about patient care, working conditions and unsafe staffing,” said O’Hearn.
Management also wants to ignore the posted work schedules, to be able to cancel shifts, to mandate extra shifts at their whim, to change the hours of a shift, and to mandate staff to come in early or stay late. This will leave the nurses unable to plan their lives and child care because they essentially would be on call 24/7.
The negotiations started in January. Management put over one hundred proposals on the table, many of them concessions that would serve to make the present contract meaningless. The MNA has represented the 106 nurse-bargaining unit for over thirty years and bargained numerous contracts over those years but never faced these types of proposals. The hospital has hired a noted “union avoidance” law firm, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees that could have been spent to maintain the quality of patient care.
“We don’t want to strike, but they are leaving us no choice if they continue to insist on their abusive and unreasonable demands,” said O’Hearn. “It is our hope that they will come to their senses and finally treat this community and their employees with the dignity and respect we deserve.”
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) 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.