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Berkshire Medical Center RNs File Unfair Labor Practice Charge Over Hospital's Refusal To Provide Health Insurance Data

iPMI Magazine Hospital and Clinic News: The registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against BMC citing management's months long refusal to provide information necessary to negotiate over health insurance, which is a mandatory subject of bargaining under federal labor law.

"As nurses we provide much of the health care at our hospital. We are simply looking to negotiate affordable, quality health insurance to keep ourselves and our families healthy," said Amber VanBramer, RN on the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. "It is particularly frustrating as a single parent that BMC has refused to negotiate over this key issue. The hospital already charges nurses like myself in family plans a lot more than managers. Nurses are at high risk for injuries and assault. We are working while exhausted, pushed by management beyond our ability to provide safe patient care."

Nurses have repeatedly requested data from BMC that the MNA needs to analyze the hospital's self-insurance rates as part of a proposal to create an additional "employee +" or "employee plus children" health insurance option. BMC has proposed raising nurses' health insurance rates by 10 percent even as nurses in BMC's family health insurance plans already pay 40 to 70 percent more than managers. BMC has also refused to consider any plan design, cost sharing, rates or co-payments other than what management first demanded at the beginning of negotiations nearly a year ago.

Quality RN Health Insurance Matters

According the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care workers are injured on the job more than those in any other profession.  In Massachusetts, they are twice as likely to be injured as those in other industries and suffer from patient handling injuries at a rate 70 percent higher than those in other states, according to the Department of Public Health.

Violence against health care workers accounts for nearly as many injuries as in all other industries combined, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. That is at a rate five times greater than the average worker in our country, with nurses experiencing more non-fatal incidents of workplace violence than against the police or corrections officers.

A recent survey of more than 220 union and non-union Massachusetts nurses found that fear of violence and physical and verbal abuse are widespread in Massachusetts health care facilities. More than 85 percent of nurses have been punched, spit on, groped, kicked or otherwise physically or verbally assaulted.

Background on Bargaining

BMC nurses are seeking a fair contract that foremost protects patient care by ensuring safe levels of nurse staffing. Nurses have filed hundreds of unsafe staffing reports with BMC management in recent months. They have repeatedly detailed their concerns about high RN workload and how that connects to negative impacts on patient care. Another key issue for nurses is quality and affordable health insurance.

Negotiations between BMC nurses and management began in September 2016. More than 20 bargaining sessions have been held to date, and now include a federal mediator. On May 31, nurses overwhelmingly rejected the hospital's "best and final" contract offer by a margin of 82 percent. Last month, nurses voted 83 percent to authorize a potential one-day strike. The 85 percent turnout was the highest ever for BMC nurses. The 16-member RN Bargaining Committee has the authority to call for a one-day strike and issue the 10-day strike notice required under federal law.

In July, BMC nurses filed a separate unfair labor practice charge against BMC and its Vice President of Human Resources for sending a letter to nurses that interfered with their protected rights by threatening retaliation against them if they took part in a one-day strike.

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