Baystate Franklin nurses settle contract after a year and a half

  • Nurses rally before being allowed back to work at Baystate Franklin Medical Center at 7 PM on Friday. April 13, 2018 Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • An inflatable ‘fat cat’ owned by the nursing union draws attention before the first nurses are allowed back into Baystate Franklin Medical Center at 7 PM on Friday. April 13, 2018 Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Nurses are checked into Baystate Franklin Medical Center at 7 PM on Friday. April 13, 2018 Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

For the Gazette
Published: 5/24/2018 11:55:34 PM

GREENFIELD — After a year and a half of negotiations, including two strikes and lockouts, a new contract for the nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center has been struck.

The five-year deal, which will be made official within a week, addressed demands over staffing, health insurance and wages.

The agreement comes a little over a month after the nurses, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, went on a one-day strike, coinciding with the High Street hospital’s three-day lockout. It was the second time in 10 months that the two sides had come to those means.

The most recent strike ended with less pomp than the prior one, in which two of the union representatives were threatened with arrest. What the second strike did bring was the Greenfield nurses down to Springfield, where the corporate offices of Baystate Health are. In tow was a 10-foot tall inflatable “fat cat” named after the hospital CEO, Mark Keroack.

In addition to the public displays, both here and 40 miles down Interstate 91, the hospital said it paid about $1 million per strike and lockout.

“I think they could see from the last strike and lockout that going down that path was not a winning strategy for either side,” head of the nurses union Donna Stern said Wednesday evening after the bargaining session and announcement of the contract resolution.

In a statement from the hospital, spokeswoman Shelly Hazlett said, “Baystate Health now has no open union contracts and we have reached agreement on five union contracts within the past 14 months.”

The hospital’s spokespeople declined to comment further than the statement. Its Greenfield leadership, President Ron Bryant and Chief Nursing Officer Deb Provost were not made available by the spokespeople for comment Wednesday evening.

But the nurses see the administration’s actions in resolving the contract as speaking volumes.

“It is clear to us that they want a different relationship moving forward,” Stern said. “As the senior bargaining chair of the unit, I’m hopeful. It’s a great win for nurses. … It’s a great win for Franklin County.”

It had been contentious for months between the two sides, particularly around the two strikes.

“As nurses, we would have preferred to avoid a second strike, but sometimes, you have to be willing to make significant sacrifices to fight for safe patient care,” Stern said.

This public labor dispute included an offer to help mediate by Congressman Jim McGovern, which was turned down by hospital leadership, to the surprise of the nurses. There was support on the picket lines by local officials, like Reps. Paul Mark and Susannah Whipps. Some Greenfield City Councilors, including Doug Mayo, Sheila Gilmour, Tim Dolan and Otis Wheeler ran election campaigns in solidarity with the nurses.

There were questions of how much overtime the nurses were in fact working. There were questions of whether the first strike was planned. There were full-page ads and radio spots taken out by both sides. At times, the dispute drew attention of media outlets in Boston.

Then, there were the several unfair labor practice charges the nurses union filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Those charges will not be closed, but rather will take their natural course, Massachusetts Nurses Association spokesman Joe Markman said.

Slated for court is a group of unfair labor practice charges filed not by the nurses but by the security union at the hospital that had formed during these past months. That court case, which the regional board found merit to, claims Cindy Russo, the former Baystate Franklin Medical Center president, interfered with the forming of a union. Around the time the board found merit to this case, Russo announced her resignation as president.

With Bryant at the helm now, first as interim and now for the foreseeable future juggling the jobs as president of both Baystate Franklin and Noble, Stern sees a brighter future. At the end of the day, she believes it was the strikes that may have been the reason why there’s a solution now.

“I can’t speak for him, but my sense is that they could see that as nurses, we were very dedicated to this cause,” Stern said about Bryant and the hospital officials.

Details of the contract

The hospital declined to provide any of the inner workings of the contract, merely saying in its statement provided by Hazlett: “Baystate Franklin is committed to staffing models that maintain our flexibility to address individual patient care needs in a sustainable way. Our most recent contract discussions with the MNA were able reach consensus on an approach that positively supports the health care needs of our community.”

Stern said it is a “great contract,” adding, “Most importantly, staffing is there. The health insurance is back. The wages.”

The nurses union will have a chance to ratify the contract with a majority vote, Tuesday, May 29, and will be receiving unanimous support from the bargaining unit. The contract, if finalized, will run from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2021.

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