Berkshire Medical Center seeks court help to avert planned Oct. 3 strike

Berkshire Medical Center, a 298-bed community hospital in Pittsfield, Mass., said it filed a legal request with a federal court to avert a planned Oct. 3 nurses strike.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nearly 800 Berkshire Medical Center nurses, announced the planned 24-hour strike earlier this month. By filing the legal request, the hospital is "standing up for what it believes is in the best interest of its patients, employees and the community," Berkshire Medical Center officials said via news release.

"According to the filing, the agreement with the MNA requires that union grievances be heard through arbitration, a process that allows differences to be resolved without interfering with hospital operations. Instead, the MNA is asking nurses to leave patients' bedsides to walk a picket line," they added.

Hospital officials further contend they have proposed a fair contract offer that includes raises for nurses and gives nurses more of a say in staffing.

"We are disappointed that the MNA has pushed for a strike rather than give that offer due consideration," said David Phelps, president and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, and Berkshire Medical Center COO Diane Kelly, DNP, RN. "However, in the event that the strike does take place, we are well prepared to continue the full range of services always available at Berkshire Medical Center through capable and dedicated care teams. The hospital will remain open and fully accessible to our patients and our community."

In response to the hospital's filing, the MNA told Becker's Thursday Berkshire Medical Center's allegation is meritless, and their attorneys plan to contest the suit in federal court. The union added, "In general, by this action, Berkshire Medical Center executives are treating the nurses as if they have no legal right to withhold their labor even for a day. The nurses obviously have the right to protest to advocate for themselves and their patients. The hospital would deprive nurses of their protected voice."

News of the filing came on the same day both sides participated in a negotiating session. The MNA said via news release it "attempted to reach a fair compromise with the hospital to avert" the planned strike. After the session, union officials said nurses filed an additional unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging the hospital "has consistently refused to bargain or attempt to come to any agreement in relation to the mandatory subjects of staffing and workload."

"BMC nurses proposed new compromises during negotiations Wednesday on the key RN issues of safe patient care and health insurance. BMC declined to meet with nurses in person and refused once again to bargain over these mandatory subjects of bargaining. Instead, BMC reiterated their refusal to bargain over staffing and workload to address nurses' need to hold BMC accountable for providing safe patient care," the union added.

A federal mediator was part of Wednesday's negotiating session. The MNA said it has indicated to the mediator it is "ready and willing" to resume negotiations before Oct. 3. In the meantime, the union has scheduled a "patient safety vigil" for Oct. 2 outside Berkshire Medical Center.


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