‘Conceptual progress’ in nurses, hospital contract talks

On the eve of Baystate Franklin Medical Center President Cindy Russo’s final night at the helm, negotiations between the hospital and the nurses union went past the 12-hour mark as they continued to search for some common ground in the 15th month of bargaining.

While the two parties did not get out of negotiations before press time, the meeting came on the heels of some relative momentum in what has been a contentious dispute over the contract for the nurses at the Greenfield hospital.

“While there has been some conceptual progress, there is not agreement on core issues yet,” Massachusetts Nurses Association spokesman Joe Markman said in a statement, adding the talks have been “off the record.”

Typically these meetings last about eight hours, while in this case, “it’s not typical to go so long into the night,” Markman added.

Shortly before press time Thursday night, the hospital’s spokeswoman Shelly Hazlett declined to comment on any of the matters regarding the negotiations.

Negotiations date back to November 2016, just before when the nurses’ contract was supposed to end at the end of the calendar year. Instead, the two parties have been debating a potential contract for now past a year.

Staffing concerns has remained the chief demand by nurses, looking for what they describe as “safe staffing ratios.” Other issues have included overtime, holiday and sick time, and health insurance plans.

The negotiations flared to its peak in late June when the nurses announced a one-day strike, which was followed by the hospital’s announcement of a concurrent three-day lockout of the nurses.

Russo had called the strike “illegal” and a spokeswoman for the hospital angled the strike was “planned,” both to the vehement denial by the nurses.

As for the lockout, union representatives had called the lockout, which prevented the nurses from entering the hospital starting the day of their strike to two full days after, as unprecedented. The hospital had said it was the only way it could handle the one-day strike by the nurses because it had to hire travel nurses to fill their spots, and a three-day contract with those interim nurses was the only way they could do so.

This past November, nurses at Westfield’s Baystate Noble ratified its contract with the hospital after a similarly lengthy process.

At the time, Stern expressed that she had hoped that signaled a step in the right direction.

“What makes that so positive is it demonstrates a pathway to settlement for us,” Stern said in early December. “It shows after a 1.5 years of long negotiations for them, management came back to the table and really started working with nurses in a collaborative way.”

A major point of contention that the nurses union have held, expressed from comments by Stern to songs chanted at rallies on the Greenfield Town Common, is that they felt the negotiations have been dictated by upper Baystate Health management, instead of local management of Baystate Franklin.

As talks started to turn the corner following Noble’s ratification of its contract, according to Stern, a main factor was the presence of Baystate Franklin Medical Center President Cindy Russo at the negotiation table.

When Russo announced her resignation from the job in early December after 18 months on the job, Stern and the nurses declined to comment on it.

The hospital’s security union wrapped the resignation into the point that their own charges that named Russo, which the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board had ruled to have merit in the week prior, showed that the president’s connection to union activity ultimately led to her resignation.

Russo is scheduled to stay on as president of the Greenfield hospital until Jan. 12.

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