Hundreds of nurses planned to go to back to work at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at 7 this morning after a 24-hour strike. But hospital management locked them out.
Berkshire Medical Center and the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been at a contract impasse for a year. The nurses’ union wants what it argues is a “better” nurse-to-patient ratio at BMC to ensure safe patient care.
The hospital contends the demand is unaffordable and unsustainable. BMC says it made its “best and final” contract offer in May, and the union hasn’t materially changed its position since – all of which led to a 24-hour strike that began at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Nurse Sandra Vosburgh says it’s about time something is done about staffing.
“I deliver babies for a living and it’s extremely difficult to feel that you can care for both for mom and for baby,” Vosburgh says.
Nurses say they have delivered hundreds of unsafe staffing forms – standard reports provided to managers when there are not enough nurses available to provide safe and effective care. The Berkshire Eagle has reported that there are questions as to the veracity of those numbers.
Berkshire Health Systems spokesperson Michael Leary told WAMC in a statement Tuesday the hospital is “surprised that the union … has chosen to go on strike against the hospital in order to support their statewide political agenda.”
Leary is referring to a proposed ballot initiative for safe patient limits. It was certified by the state attorney general’s office in September.
After a full day of rallies and chanting, the strike attracted about 800 people to the picket line. Inside the hospital, officials said it has been business as usual.
After the strike ended Wednesday morning, BHS Vice President of Human Resources Arthur Milano met the returning unionized workers.
“As we explained in a letter last week, and there are letters for you here, you won’t be returning today,” Milano says. “So, we’ll welcome you back on the 8th.”
BMC says certified nurses have been trained to replace the unionized nurses until then.
Berkshire Health Systems CEO David Phelps told WAMC Monday keeping the hospital running during the strike and its aftermath is costly.
“We envision ours, in the end – security, nursing, everything, because there are a lot of costs at our end – will probably be, will soon to be over $4 million, for sure,” Phelps says.
Both the union and the hospital have filed numerous unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
BHS Vice President and General Counsel John Rogers questions whether the strike was really worth it.
“At some point, you know, the strike will end; our existing nurses will come back to work; and we will be in the same place, in terms of the contract negotiations, that we are today,” Rogers says.
In July, MNA members walked out of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and soon after in Greenfield, too. The nurses’ union reached contract agreements with Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Providence Hospital in Holyoke, Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Memorial Campus in Worcester over the past few years.
Bobbie Gregory, a nurse who got off the night shift and joined the protest Tuesday, says BMC is different.
“We have so much at stake for our patients,” Gregory says. “It was hard walking out under these circumstances because we shouldn’t have to fight this fight. We’re talking about patient care. We are not a factory.”
BMC says the hospital’s formal quality tracking system has shown no data to support the nurses’ anecdotes.
Nurse Mark Brodeur says they plan to continue rallying outside BMC in Pittsfield, and at its north campus in North Adams Thursday, until management lets them return to work.
“But we don’t need it to be for more than one day, we would like to get back to back to work tomorrow,” Brodeur says. “If they do not let us back in then we will keep picketing for the duration of the lockout.”