Berkshire Medical Center nurses plan June 18 strike

Registered nurses from Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Medical Center intend to hold a one-day strike this month.

On June 4, nurses notified the medical center they planned to begin the strike at 7 a.m. June 18 and end it 24 hours later, according to a news release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents 800 medical center nurses.

"Our nurses have said it loud and clear: We will not stop fighting for staffing improvements that help keep our patients safe. We have demonstrated our unity with three separate votes and have persisted despite the length of our fight and management's divisiveness," said Alex Neary, RN and co-chair of the nurses union and medical center bargaining committee. "Management offered proposals that do not make sufficient improvements for us to provide our patients with the care they deserve."

Union officials said nurses issued the strike notice after management during the most recent negotiations refused to agree to proposals they contend would improve staffing. They said the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, even after nurses were open to negotiating safe staffing and health insurance.

According to the union, nurses specifically have said they would be open to exploring the hospital's idea of creating resource nurse positions on all shifts, all days, as long as certain criteria were in place, including "an adequate number of resource nurses on each shift" in multiple medical center units. However, they contend the medical center did not agree to the full proposed criteria from nurses.

Berkshire Medical Center expressed disappointment in the nurses' strike plans and outlined its previous proposals in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

"Over the course of the past two years, the union has asked that the hospital guarantee the current level of nurse staffing, regardless of changing patient care needs.  In response, the hospital agreed to keep nurse-to-patient guidelines as they now are in place through the end of September 2021," the statement reads. "Over that same period, the union sought substantial increases in nurses' pay, and the hospital agreed to increases amounting to 14 percent over a four-year period and upward adjustments in night shift and other differentials." 

The hospital said it also addressed nurses' concerns by offering to add resource nurses to ensure charge nurses only have to care for assigned patients for a minimal amount of time. Nurses agreed to the same health insurance plan offered by Berkshire Health Systems to all affiliate employees, but did not agree, at least until Sept. 1, 2020, to pay the same premium amount for individual coverage, the medical center stated.

The medical center said it added a fifth year to its most recent contract proposal, as well as a 3 percent pay increase with an additional 2 percent adjustment for nurses at the top of the pay scale, in that contract year.

Despite various proposals from both sides, the hospital and nurses have not been able to reach a new contract agreement since negotiations began in September 2016.

The nurses went on strike in October 2017, and in January voted to authorize another one-day strike. After a strike authorization, the law requires nurses to give hospital officials at least 10 days' notice of a planned walkout. The nurses issued a one-day strike notice for Feb. 27, but later withdrew it.

The hospital said it has prepared for a strike and does not anticipate interruption of services or quality of care.


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