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Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses vote to authorize three-day strike

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center nurses voted by an overwhelming majority Tuesday to authorize a three-day strike against their hospital, a move union leaders hope will pressure officials to settle the labor dispute in arbitration.

But hospital leaders insist that the outcome of the vote will not change their stance that it is financially necessary to switch from daily overtime pay to a weekly model. They are prepared to bring in outside help and weather a strike, like they did last October when the nurses walked out for 24 hours.

The vote means that union leaders can call for a strike at any time, but must give the hospital at least 10 days notice.

Union leaders say a strike is the last thing they want to do. But negotiations are not progressing, they said, and the hospital has refused to pursue arbitration.

“The nurses want this contract finished,” said union co-chairwoman Linda Judd. “They’re happy to go to an independent arbitrator ... or if (the hospital) wants to do it at the table. But it needs to be done now. Not months from now.”

Hospital president Chuck Gijanto has said he does not believe it would be beneficial to ask an outside party with no knowledge of the local issue to make an arbitrary ruling.

“It’s unfortunate that the union has opted to threaten the hospital with another strike,” Gijanto said Tuesday night. “This will force us into emergency planning around a work stoppage for the second time in a little over a year.

“Again, we’re seeing the interests of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the National Nurses United — of which the MNA is a part — being placed ahead of the interests of our local hospital, our patients and our community,” he added.

Gijanto said he is confident that Baystate Franklin will be able to serve patients’ needs, even though a potential strike would be longer and the hospital may not be able to rely on Baystate Health nurses as it did last year.

Union leaders said nurses could vote for or against a strike and choose the number of days they would support striking for, from one to three. The leaders intend to go with the majority vote favoring a three-day strike.

Hospital officials want the union to allow its nurses to vote on a proposal offered this summer, which would have daily overtime continue until December 2014. The union rejected the hospital offer earlier this year.

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