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NLRB to review unfair labor practice complaint against Greenfield hospital

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In the charges, the union alleges that the hospital did not respond to an information request during negotiations and that administrators told employees not to speak of union activities in the hospital’s hallways, nurse’s stations and cafeteria. The complaint means that the labor relations board will interview both sides and investigate the charges further at an Oct. 2 hearing.

“We have had (unfair labor practice hearings) in the past ... and we have more times than not come out on top,” said hospital President Chuck Gijanto. “We are very confident in our position on these.”

At the heart of one of the charges is the debate over overtime pay, which has divided nurses and hospital administrators since contract talks began in October 2011.

The hospital wants to change to a weekly model where nurses get time-and-a-half pay after working 40 hours. Nurses want the daily model to continue, in which they would receive bonus pay for any hours beyond their regular shift.

The hospital has said the weekly overtime pay model is an “industry standard,” which led the nurses to file an information request for a complete list of Massachusetts hospitals that use this model. The union said the hospital has not responded to this request and filed an unfair labor practice charge.

“This issue is of great importance to both nurses and patients, because an exhausted nurse cannot provide safe patient care,” said Donna Stern, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the local bargaining unit. “Our management is illegally withholding information while demanding that we nurses accept dangerous working conditions, which we cannot do.” Gijanto argued that administrators are doing the best they can to get information to the nurses, but that the requests are simply “tactic(s) to delay and drag” out contract talks.

“Information requests have been numerous over the course of these negotiations,” he said. “We’re responding to information requests, we continue to respond to information requests, and they keep giving them to us.” In a second charge, the union alleged that the hospital sent an email to employees on Sept. 24, saying, “Please do not speak of any union activities in patient care areas. ... These are areas where patients or their family members may overhear conversation.” That email would have been sent 10 days before the nurses’ scheduled one-day Oct. 5 strike against the hospital.

“It was clear to us that Baystate was attempting to break the law to silence nurses, who were only exercising their right to advocate for ourselves and our patients,” said Linda Judd, RN, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the bargaining unit.

Gijanto said he believes it was a reasonable request on the hospital’s part. It hasn’t been an issue in the 10 months since, he said, and he called the referenced September event “ancient history, as far as we’re concerned.”

Meanwhile, hospital officials are awaiting the union’s response to the new proposals they offered during a bargaining session last month. Officials mailed letters to all nurses outlining the proposal and urging them to contact their union representatives if they supported the plan.

The hospital would allow the daily overtime model to continue until Dec. 7, 2014. During that time, there would be a “grace period,” where nurses would receive standard pay for up to one hour beyond their normal shifts (the union had proposed a half-hour grace period).

“We put a very sound and fair offer on the table (and are) looking forward to a positive response to it,” said Gijanto. “We’re ready to move forward here.” The union will officially respond to the proposal on Wednesday, but Stern said that she was unhappy the hospital tried to go around the bargaining unit by sending letters directly to nurses.

“They’re still not really interested in having a serious dialogue with how to get rid of the problem of overtime,” she said.

Both sides say they want to end overtime and would be interested in collaborating on a task force to investigate the problem. But they haven’t been able to finalize details on the task force.

The hospital also offered nurses wage increases and ratification bonuses. Stern said the union cares less about monetary incentives and more interested in receiving more respect and fairer hospital policies.

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