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Nurses Picket UMass Memorial Over Staffing + Pension Cuts

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Nurses at Worcester's UMass Memorial Hospital continue to picket over staffing cuts and pension problems with “Twelve Days of Grinchmas” -- a holiday-themed rally about the union's concerns. The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) has been involved in organizing the movement against what the organization called “dangerous mismanagement” and “greedy proposals.”

Kathy Hackett, a UMass Memorial nurse in orthopedics who has been with the hospital since 1981 braved the freezing temperatures to join the group. In her time at UMass Memorial, she has seen many phases, but this, she said has been the worst.

“You’re in an environment where anything can happen. I may have a patient that is getting lightheaded, dizzy, or choking on their food, and if I don’t have a PCA (Patient Care Assistant), I lose a set of eyes and a set of hands,” she said.

Hackett described a recent day of work: “I’m supposed to get out at 3:15, and I didn’t leave until ten to 6:00,” she said. “I worked all day, with no breaks, no lunch. And they expect us to say ‘Okay.’”

Caroling for a Cause

Wednesday was the group’s third night of picketing, as dozens of nurses gathered in front of the hospital to voice their opinions. Their twelve-day picket will continue until the 21st, when they will conclude their “12 Days of UMass Grinchmas.”

The MNA compiled a list of carols for the event to the tune of popular holiday songs, including “Rockin' Around the Money Tree,” “The MNA is Coming to Town,” “UMass Nursing Ain't No Wonderland,” and “It's a Nasty Crafty Grinchmas.”

Other tunes bash the hospital for the amount of stress placed on single nurses, as well as many of the benefits being taken away from nurses, including emergency personal days, self-coverage, and reduced insurance premiums.

Nurses who were picketing spoke about the effects they’ve seen in the hospital with the loss of ancillary help, bedside nurses, and other positions. They said that instead of looking at the numbers and ratio of patients to nurses, they need to look at the acuity. Not all patients’ problems are so simplistic.

Another nurse who was picketing with Hackett said that it’s insulting when the UMass Memorial administration expects them to perform under these conditions.

“I’ve seen it go in cycles, but with the way it is now, I wouldn’t recommend someone to go into nursing,” she said.

Fear of Striking

MNA staff member, Wendy McGill, said that in their long pursuit of two contracts to improve their working conditions and quality, UMass Memorial has always handled the nurses at the hospital and the nurses at the campus location very separately.

“The other major unions that represent workers at the hospital – they have single bargaining units and are all under one contract. We have been asking the employer to agree to similar arrangements for us,” she said.

“They like to keep up separate. The health benefits are the same, the pension is the same. They’re acting more like the single employer that they are.”

When asked why she thought the two groups were so separated, McGill said, “They said it, then retracted the statement, ‘We’re afraid you’ll strike.’ If Memorial strikes, they’re presuming they could move patients to the campus,” she said. “But the reality is they can’t. We can figure this out, and if we wanted to, we could.”

This issue, she said, is one of lesser importance in comparison to staffing, pensions, and emergency personal days.

A recent release from UMass Memorial’s Media and Public Relations Manager, Rob Brogna, stated that, “The nurses may conduct informational picketing from time to time, as is common in these situations. Nurses will not be picketing during their work shifts. They are not on strike.”

“There will be no interruption in hospital or clinical services – it is business as usual. Nurse staffing levels are unaffected during picketing. The nurses that you need at your bedside will always be there. If need be, we regularly adjust nursing levels for additional patients and procedures.”

Unsafe Staffing?

UMass Memorial’s nurses and the MNA have been in a contentious negotiation to solve issues related to staff cuts and pension. Nurses claim that the administration at the hospital has made its position clear from their job cuts.

“Eliminations mean, when you don’t have a secretary, nurses are now having to answer the phones. Nurses have to juggle,” McGill said. “Healthcare is a business – there is no doubt about that. On the other hand, nurses bring the humanity to it. They bring people into this world.”

The MNA is arguing that the hospital’s most recent cuts made in September laid off too many personnel, placing patients at risk.

While the union says that these cuts make is nearly impossible for the hospital to put their patients first, the hospital maintains that their goal is to provide high quality.

The release from Brogna, stated that “The nurses want to make their views known to the community. Although we do not agree with our nurses’ positions on pension, health, welfare and benefits packages and staffing, we acknowledge their lawful right to conduct ‘informational pickets.’”

Possible Negotiations

In Brogna’s release, the hospital details to patients what negotiations have been made thus far.

“We are speaking with our neighbors, patients, doctors, nurses and staff about the importance of delivering the highest quality health care more affordably,” the release stated. “We are negotiating with the two separate bargaining units of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at the Medical Center that have not yet supported the necessary changes to ensure financial strength.”

The last update UMass Memorial posted on their website devoted to managing relations with the union – http://www.umassmemorialchange.org – was posted in November and informed visitors that negotiations with the MNA continue.

“We have put proposals on the table relative to pension reform, health insurance and time-off accruals. Our Worcester-based non-union staff and management and all of our other unions have now agreed to similar changes in order to address the serious fiscal challenges facing us all,” the memo read.

Their most recent release states that UMass Memorial is also streamlining operations for efficiency, all while providing world-class care as well as thanking Worcester-based union and non-union employees who agreed to make our benefits programs financially sustainable for the long-term.

“Our goal is to reach a fair contract with the MNA that balances the needs of all parties, particularly as we continue to address a health care landscape that is increasingly challenging for our patients. We appreciate our nurses’ ongoing commitment to providing safe, quality and patient-centered care.”

McGill also added that “negotiations are very robust.”

“We have narrowed the issue and worked out a lot of the less contentious issues on both sides. We’re down to critical issues. This is what happens,” she said.


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