Berkshire Medical Center accuses Massachusetts union of bad-faith bargaining

Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Medical Center said it filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Massachusetts Nurses Association, accusing the union of "surface bargaining," as opposed to negotiating in good faith.

The hospital, which has been negotiating with the MNA to reach a labor deal for close to 800 nurses, made the announcement via a Sept. 7 news release.

"We have met with the union nearly 30 times over the past 12 months," said Arthur Milano, vice president of human resources at BMC's parent company, Pittsfield-based Berkshire Health Systems. "It has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the MNA is now only going through the motions of negotiations to create the appearance that it is bargaining in good faith."

Hospital officials said BMC presented "the best offer it reasonably could" to the union in May, but the MNA almost immediately organized a vote to reject the offer. The union subsequently authorized a strike in July, meaning their bargaining committee has approval to call a strike if they so choose. However, a strike date has not been scheduled.

"MNA leaders have repeatedly claimed they recently have made dramatic 'movement' in their bargaining demands. In reality, the union's 'new' proposals are simply repackaged versions of proposals that Berkshire representatives explained months ago were unacceptable. Rewording proposals or reordering paragraphs of proposed contract language that contains the same terms or achieves the same results as proposals previously rejected does not constitute good faith bargaining. Berkshire Medical Center responded to the union by explaining, once again, why it could not agree to their proposals," Mr. Milano added.

Hospital officials said BMC also believes the union "has adopted a strike-oriented bargaining strategy to advance its political goals rather than to reach a fair and reasonable nurses' contract at our community hospital."

Joe Markman, associate communications director of the MNA, called the charge "unfounded" in an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

"Unlike the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, which is clearly providing Berkshire Medical Center with industry talking points, MNA nurses approach bargaining as a local issue. BMC nurses have proposed local solutions to patient care concerns they are experiencing at their hospital," he says.

Mr. Markman further contends that "nurses have bargained in good faith the entire time and have made numerous revisions to their proposals."

"BMC nurses have patient care proposals currently on the table that do not include patient limits and that are unique to BMC. To say otherwise is dishonest. We expect that when this charge is dismissed, BMC will settle with MNA BMC nurses. BMC should return to the table, bargain in good faith and address the very real concerns of nurses and the community," he added.

Hospital officials said the charge will be reviewed by the NLRB.


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