To the editor:
According to an October 8 news story, when Berkshire Health Systems CEO David Phelps was asked “if he would allow these [BMC nursing contract] negotiations to go into binding arbitration” his answer was “No.” In that reply he appears to sing a different tune from the one his legal team sang in the Springfield federal court just 10 days earlier, on September 28, when they asserted (unsuccessfully) that key issues in the negotiations had to be submitted to binding arbitration. This assertion was at the heart of BMC’s argument in its 8-page court filing that day. An obvious follow-up question for Mr. Phelps: “Why the apparent about-face?”
On May 3 BHS took a significant step by bringing its case against the contract proposals of BMC nurses and its complaints about their negotiating team directly to the news media, thereby emerging from the confidentiality of the negotiating room to appeal for support in the court of public opinion.
Now that the one-day strike and four-day lockout of nurses has ended, there is a compelling public interest in having BHS answer at least three more questions.
— Does BMC’s estimate of $4 million for the cost of hiring replacement nurses for five days include the cost of hiring extra security guards and the full cost of its contract with the US Nursing Corporation which supplied the temporary nurses?
— How much did the cost of BHS’s response to the strike exceed its usual overhead costs for nursing labor, security, and other regular costs for five days in early October?
— What did BMC pay the Boston law firm Ropes and Gray to pursue its suddenly-announced September 28 petition to a federal judge to quash the strike just five days beforehand?
As a company whose financial life-blood requires frequent large infusions of taxpayer money through Medicare and Medicaid payments (and payments of contractually mandated revenue from the insurance premiums paid by regional employers and employees), BHS should fully disclose the magnitude of the extra costs incurred in its four-day lockout, and the terms of its contract with the company that supplied its strike labor.
Even if there is no legal requirement that it do so, a decent respect for the court of public opinion, to which it brought its issues in May, requires such disclosure.
It may be uncomfortable for BHS’s top administrators to learn that expectations in the court of public opinion for transparency on such questions can be more rigorous than those it has faced under the circumscribed rules governing bargaining sessions with nurses or legal dialogues in a federal courtroom. BHS leaders chose this additional venue five months ago. If they refuse to fulfill the extra obligations consequent to that choice, they will have to face the political reality of additional damage to their public credibility.