BMC nurses: One-day strike turns into five-day lockout

More Info
By Wednesday, Oct 4 News  14 Comments
Mark Brodeur, a nurse in BMC's post-anesthesia care unit and a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association bargaining committee, chants, "Our hospital, our patients," along with his fellow workers. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Nurses Association

A makeshift sign outside Berkshire Medical Center Wednesday morning tells the abbreviated version of the story of the labor strife between BMC and its nurses. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Nurses Association

Pittsfield — Having completed their one-day strike, nurses at Berkshire Medical Center attempted to return to work this morning only to find themselves locked out of the hospital at least until Sunday, Oct. 8.

When the workers, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, tried to enter the hospital at 7 a.m. today, they were greeted by uniformed security guards and Arthur Milano, BHS’ vice president of human resources, who told them they “won’t be returning today but we’ll welcome you back on the 8th.”

The approximately 100 nurses insisted they had returned to “care for our patients” because “that’s what we were hired to do.” They then began chanting, “Our hospital, our patients!” (See video below)


BMC, the county’s largest hospital, took its nurses’ union to court last week over a one-day strike planned for Oct. 3. The suit questioned the legality of the planned labor stoppage, said it was a violation of the existing labor agreement, and sought an injunction and damages to compensate the hospital for the cost of hiring replacement nurses.

But the hospital lost the legal challenge on Friday when U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied the emergency injunction request in Springfield on Friday, dealing the hospital a setback and allowing the union to go forward with its planned work stoppage.

“The BMC nurse strike is over, but BMC is choosing to continue with replacement nurses from outside the community for four more days,” MNA spokesman Joe Markham told the Edge.

Four BMC nurses try to report to work Wednesday morning in Pittsfield. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Nurses Association

Markham said the union is requesting information from BMC about its contract with the replacement nurses and believes the hospital’s use of the replacement nurses may be “retaliatory against its own nurses for going on strike and advocating for safe patient care.”

“The hospital has refused to provide the information so far,” Markham explained. “We are considering next steps around that issue.”

Hospital spokesman Michael Leary has said the strike “makes it evident that this is a tactic the union is using to promote its statewide political agenda,” a reference to the MNA’s efforts to gather support for a proposed 2018 statewide ballot initiative that would limit the number of patients assigned to a nurse at any one time.

Negotiations began for a new contract about a year ago and include a federal mediator. More than 25 bargaining sessions have been held. On May 31, 82 percent of the union nurses rejected the hospital’s “best and final” contract offer.

In July, 83 percent of the nurses voted to authorize a potential one-day strike. The 16-member bargaining committee had the authority to call for such a strike provided it issued a 10-day strike notice, which it did as required under federal law.

BMC nurses staged a vigil in front of the the hospital hours before the lockout began. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Nurses Association

The union says BMC nurses have raised patient safety concerns to hospital management using various means for years, including directly to supervisors, at labor-management meetings and during ongoing collective-bargaining negotiations.

But according to officials at Berkshire Health Systems, BMC’s parent organization, the strike will have to last longer than one day. While BMC says it will bring in “experienced, qualified replacement nurses” to work in place of existing staff, the temporary nursing agency U.S. Nursing Corporation requires a minimum five-day contract. Therefore the labor stoppage would result in greater financial losses for the striking nurses.

The hospital insists that the replacement nurses are fully certified and that patient care will not suffer. The five-day replacement plan will cost BMC a reported $4 million.

Markham said there will be a rally outside BMC at 5 p.m. today and 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Berkshire Health Systems facility in North Adams with representatives from the North County Cares Coalition. Meanwhile, picketing will continue outside BMC “until the lockout ends,” Markham said.


Return Home

14 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    Nobody really wins with a strike, except the lawyers…

    “Our Hospital, our patients”. While this sounds nice, the nurses are at will employees. It is the employers will, not the employee.

    Normally, if one wants more money, one works more, works smarter, or changes jobs. Change can be very good!

    1. SC says:

      John, I think that you must speak from a position of great privilege if you believe that just changing jobs is a simple thing in the Berkshires

      1. John says:

        Hello SC
        Privileged not at all. Change can be very hard. However in all honesty, nursing is one of the few careers where change is indeed possible with so many medical offices in the Berkshires. Or even out of the Berkshires!!
        Nursing is fortunate, as it is not a career that has moved to China. (Like so much of engineering.)

        In the work world, remember, Control your own destiny, or someone else will.

    2. John Lippmann says:

      “Control your own destiny, or someone else will.” Speaking of nice slogans , I guess you mean only stand as an individual because by striking that is exactly what the nurses were trying to do, collectively shape their working conditions so others who just think in dollars over patient care would not make those decisions for them.

      1. Shawn G. says:

        You got it, John!

    3. Joseph Method says:

      John, the nurses don’t just want more money. They want better staffing because they feel the current situation is inadequate and even dangerous for their patients. Even if it were easy for the nurses to leave and find other jobs they wouldn’t want to because they are interested in improving the situation in Pittsfield.

  2. Leonard Quart says:

    A strike is difficult for everybody involved. But this one deserves support. Time to resurrect the old union song–“Which Side Are You On?”

  3. michele miller says:

    And what is the management making annually?

  4. Leonard Quart says:

    A strike is difficult for everybody involved. But this one deserves support. Time to resurrect the old union song–“Which Side Are You On?”

  5. John Breasted says:

    Four questions for the regional media to pursue on the current 4-day lockout of BMC nurses.

    Over the past four months or so, Berkshire Medical Center managers have repeatedly asserted that they can’t hire nurses to fill in during a one-day strike without guaranteeing four additional days of work to the agency they have hired to provide the temporary workers.

    Four questions about that assertion:

    1) Did BMC not have enough bargaining power to negotiate a shorter term than five days with its strike labor contractor, US Nursing Corporation? (A shorter lock-out period would be less disruptive to patient care and presumably less expensive for BMC’s coffers.)

    2) Is the current four-day lockout period dictated by take-it-or-leave-it contract terms which agencies like US Nursing Corporation have the market power to insist upon?

    3) Or is the four-day lockout driven more by hospital management’s intention to punish nurses for striking by inflicting financial pain on them?

    4) Or is the answer: “both 2 and 3”?

    BMC started taking its case to the public on May 3, on the issues in the current protracted nursing contract negotiations. There is a compelling public interest in the prompt provision of answers to these four questions. Reporters for all regional media this week should be diligently pursuing these questions and publishing the answers they get, not only from the two parties to the dispute, but from knowledgeable independent analysts of labor issues in the business of American healthcare.

    I have followed the coverage of the BMC nursing contract issues closely since May 3, and I am really tired of reading (and hearing) media repetitions of unvetted, sound-bite assertions from both the nurses’ union and BMC management. The regional media have had five months to get on this important story at the depth it deserves, and they have failed miserably and inexcusably to do so.

    I need to add here that the Massachusetts Nurses Association union spokesmen and the MNA website have given me much better documentation of the union’s assertions on the central issue of nurse staffing, than have BMC’s spokesman and the several BMC / BHS websites.

    The coverage of the BMC nursing contract issues in the regional media over the last five months has been an uninformative insult to the intelligence of alert readers and listeners. Also, the superficial media treatment of the complex underlying issues has been, on balance, a de-facto reinforcement of BMC’s spin in the matter. Newspapers and radio stations need to be more than echo chambers for corporate spin doctors. So far, the best coverage of the staffing issues has been Terry Cowgill’s here. Much more depth is needed on these and the other BMC nursing issues.

    Go to it, Berkshire Edge! Maybe the rest of the regional media will be inspired to emulate your good work.

    –John Breasted, Great Barrington, 10-5-2017

    1. John Breasted says:

      In response to Terry Cowgill’s October 2 news story on the one-day strike by BMC nurses, Shawn G. asked: “Increased staffing levels. The nurses want a guideline for patient to nurse ratio, yes?” [See: https://theberkshireedge.com/fresh-from-successful-legal-fight-bmc-nurses-set-to-strike/#comment-491524 ]

      I am re-posting my response to Sean G. here because the issue of BMC nurses’ concerns about adequate RN staffing at the hospital is so important, being central to their contract negotiations and to their strike, and to their subsequent 4-day lockout, now in day two.

      For Shawn G.:

      In answer to your question about nurse staffing levels: I think that what the BMC nurses want is something more sophisticated than a fixed hospital-wide guideline for patient to nurse ratios. Their ideas and concerns on this complex issue cannot be adequately explained in sound-bite form or even in a 25 word sentence. The professional literature on this subject is vast; no one study proves the nurses’ points definitively on the issue, but the sweep of the evidence from many rigorous, peer-reviewed research studies does seem to support their concerns strongly.

      Unfortunately, none of our regional media reporters and editors appear to have bothered to read this literature, do in-depth interviews of independent experts on the subject, and summarize their findings in everyday language for readers and listeners. And they have had five months to do so, since the nursing contract issues becam a matter of public dispute on May 3. (As a former reporter and medical student, I am now inclined to try to do this work myself, and find a way to publish it widely.)

      From what I have heard and read since early May, I suspect that the main administrative issue for BHS management on this subject is not money, but management’s obvious strong desire to maintain complete control over staffing decisions, and not to give nurses any formal power in the making of those decisions. Maybe BHS has some very good clinical and philosophical reasons for adhering so tightly to this stance, but there needs to be much more public light shed on their thinking and reasoning in support of it, than has occurred so far.

      The thinking of the nurses on this issue also may deserve more detailed public scrutiny than it has so far received, but they have already revealed their thinking in a lot more public detail than has BHS. Also, the documentation on their union website, in support of their staffing concerns, is much more extensive, detailed, and evidence-based, than the material on the same issue posted on the BHS websites.

      I have begun to think that there is no way this staffing issue will be resolved appropriately without much more detailed public input, and maybe even formal public representation in the making of all BMC / BHS nurse staffing decisions.

      Here are summaries of two examples of the many nurse staffing studies posted on the MNA website:

      Comparison of the Value of Nursing Work Environments
      in Hospitals Across Different Levels of Patient Risk

      http://massnurses.org/files/file/Legislation-and-Politics/JAMA-Jan-20-2016-Comparison.pdf

      “There is a 20% lower risk that a patient will die within 30 days of having general surgery at a hospital with above average nurse staffing levels, defined in this study as facilities that had a mean ratio of about 1.5 nurses per bed vs. those with a mean of less than one nurse per bed. Results were based on outcomes and cost of care of a total of 172,225 patients in 606 hospitals across 3 states (Illinois, New York and Texas) between 2004 and 2006.”
      *****************************************************************************
      Better Nurse Staffing and Nurse Work Environments
      Associated With Increased Survival of In-Hospital Cardiac
      Arrest Patients

      From: Medical Care (54:1) January 2016
      http://massnurses.org/files/file/Legislation-and-Politics/Better-Nurse-Staffing-and-Work-Environments.pdf
      “This major study published in the journal Medical Care (January, 2016) shows that patients who suffer a heart attack while in the hospital are more likely to survive in those facilities where nurses have safe patient assignments and higher RN staffing levels. The authors found that for every patient added to a nurse’s workload, the likelihood of a patient surviving cardiac arrest decreases by five percent per patient.  Moreover, patients cared for in hospitals with poor work environments (where nurses had less autonomy over their practice and resources and weaker relationships and communication with physicians) had a 16% lower likelihood of survival after a heart attack in the hospital. The study included over 11,000 patients over a two-year period in 75 hospitals in 4 states across the country (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and California) and focused on only those hospitals with an incidence of more than 10 cardiac arrest events during the time period under study.”

  6. steve smith says:

    Prior to the strike the hospital said they would lock out….I suspect they hired Temps for five days. This isn’t retail tory, it’s survival

  7. steve smith says:

    Statistics indicate, as of 2016, 200,000 people die nationwide each year due to preventable medical errors. Does anyone other than the NCOS of a hospital, the backbone of health care see the common denominator here. Hospitals have become big business, not interested in quality health care but rather profit and large salaries with golden parachutes.. to maximize profit, one must reduce the workforce, this means less nurses assigned to more patients. Hospital administrators did know, or should have know the end result would be 200,000 (and rising) preventable deaths due to medical error annually. Now, in light of the above, who are the saviors and who are the killers? My vote for Nurses.

  8. steve smith says:

    Statistics indicate, as of 2016, 200,000 people die nationwide each year due to preventable medical errors. Does anyone other than the NCOS of a hospital, the backbone of health care see the common denominator here. Hospitals have become big business, not interested in quality health care but rather profit and large salaries with golden parachutes.. to maximize profit, one must reduce the workforce, this means less nurses assigned to more patients. Hospital administrators did know, or should have know the end result would be 200,000 (and rising) preventable deaths due to medical error annually. Now, in light of the above, who are the saviors and who are the enablers? My vote for Nurses.

Reply to John Breasted Cancel reply

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.

Frederick Simmons Sr., 86, of Lee

Tuesday, Oct 17 - Fred enjoyed hunting and fishing in the local area, vegetable gardening, woodworking, spending time with his large extended family and being a great dad.