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Massachusetts nurses picket two Baystate sites over contract impasse

Registered nurses in western Massachusetts have staged a two-day picket of Baystate Health facilities over their frustration with a 12-month impasse in negotiating a new contract.

According to a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the pickets at two sites – Baystate Visiting Nurses Association and the construction site of a new Baystate hospital – are being staged to inform the community of what it terms Baystate’s “anti-union tactics and their failure to engage in good faith negotiations over key issues, including wages and the nurses' health insurance benefit.”

As Greg Pendrick, RN, and a member of the negotiating committee noted in a prepared statement: "As these negotiations have gone on it has become clear to us that Baystate management is attempting to bust our union by taking away our rights to negotiate over our wages and other benefits. Baystate has held fast on their demand that they will unilaterally decide wages. They say RNs will get whatever Baystate determines to give the nonunion employees. This is totally unacceptable and clearly an attempt to bust our union."

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The pickets are the latest in a number of labor issues at Baystate Health and its hospital network. Last month, MNA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations board over what it charged was “surface bargaining” over nurses’ health insurance benefits. And in September the provider was called out by the Service Employee International Union Local 1199 to reconsider its plans to cut 354 jobs, due to the provider receiving a projected $17 million benefit from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as part of a program to help rural hospitals.

At the time Baystate contended that 1199 SEIU was simply taking advantage of the situation in a ploy to unionize the company’s labor pool, a charge the union denied. Baystate also noted that both the estimated $17 million benefit and its $49 million operating profit for 2010 were not significant enough given its $1.6 billion annual budget and existing capital requirements to preserve the jobs.

MNA officials contend that Baystate is deliberately trying to bust the union and point to the provider’s retainer agreement with national law firm Jackson-Lewis as negotiator, which it contends is anti-union, as proof positive the company is not negotiating in good faith.