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NEW: Nurses Union Files Unfair Labor Charges Against UMass Memorial

Friday, December 21, 2012

 

The Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU) has filed a charge of unfair labor practice and is seeking an injunction with the National Labor Relations Board against UMass Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) for its decision to violate the nurses’ union contract and force nurses, who are supposed to have the Christmas holiday off, to work that day, even though many of these nurses have already worked Thanksgiving, and will be working on New Year’s Day.

Under the nurses contract, they are only required to work every other holiday. The MNA said the decision to violate the contract in this manner and strip nurses of their holiday benefit is a first for UMass, as well as for any other bargaining unit represented by the MNA in Massachusetts. It follows a number of layoffs of nursing and support staff in the past two years.

The MNA also contends that the illegal action is being implemented by management in direct retaliation against the nurses for union activity and public criticism of UMMC for poor staffing conditions that are compromising patient safety. The nurses have been engaged in daily picketing outside the Memorial Hospital campus for the past 10 days, and the nurses have been speaking out publicly about their concerns about the working conditions and the need for staffing improvements to protect patients.

“Nurses are up in arms over this blatant violation of their rights," said Margaret McLoughlin, RN, co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit for the nurses on the University Hospital campus. "Our management has signed a written agreement to grant nurses specific holiday benefits, and for more than three decades, they have never failed to honor that agreement. It is also their responsibility to ensure there is enough staff to meet patients needs. Now, because they have cut staffing and refuse to provide adequate numbers of nurses, they are seeking to meet their obligations by attacking nurses and ruining their Christmas holiday. This is nothing short of obscene.”

UMMC Media and Public Relations Manager Robert Brogna said that the scheduling of nurses to work on Christmas is due to a major influx of patients at the hospital over the past month.

“UMass Memorial Medical Center and the MNA have always understood that our primary obligation is for the proper care of our patients," he said. "Over the past month, the Medical Center has experienced a significant increase in patients seeking care. That is why our contract gives the Medical Center the legal right to assign nurses to work on a holiday under the present circumstances. We would not assign this handful of nurses to work on Christmas unless we had to, and we’re doing everything we can to seek volunteers and per diems so that nurses can enjoy the holidays with their families. Currently, there are only five nurses who have received a notice that they we need them to work on the Christmas holiday, and we are working hard to reduce that number even further. Our first priority, however, has to be patient safety.”

The unfair labor practice charge comes after the 2,000 nurses represented by the MNA on the University Hospital and Memorial/Hahnemann campuses of UMNMC have been engaged in nearly a year of negotiations for a new union contract, with little progress on a number of key issues, including the nurses call for higher RN staffing levels. The MNA said nurses are outraged about deteriorating working conditions, a lack of resources, and untenable patient loads following more than six layoffs involving hundreds of RNs and support staff over the last two years.

The nurses are concerned that these cuts are being made in the wake of the hospital’s posting more than $53 million in profits in 2012, a nearly 80 percent increase over its $29 million profit in 2011.

“It is unacceptable that nurses and our patients are being forced to pay the price for penalties incurred by our leaderships’ mismanagement and shady dealings,” said Ellen Smith, an intensive care unit nurse and co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit for the nurses on the University campus.

The nurses and management began negotiations for a new union contract in February 2012 for the University campus nurses, and in November 2011 for the Memorial/Hahnemann campus nurses. The nurses’ contracts officially expired on December 31, 2011 and April 5, 2012 respectively. The parties are set to go back to the table after the new year and have negotiating dates scheduled through February. 

 

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