Nurses to vote whether to strike
By James Vaznis, Globe Staff | November 13, 2006
Nurses at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who have been negotiating a contract since July, will vote today on whether to strike.
The vote by secret ballot would authorize the union's negotiating committee to call a strike. Should a strike call prevail, the approximately 2,700 nurses would be poised to follow the steps of those at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where nurses went on strike one day last month. Nurses at both facilities belong to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the state's largest nurses union.
"Nurses are angry and frustrated," said Barbara Norton, a registered nurse who is chairwoman of the nurses union at Brigham and Women's. "I've never seen such emotion in the nursing staff. They've just had it."
Norton said staffing levels of nurses are chronically poor, threatening patient safety and causing high staff turnover.
Nurses at Brigham and Women's are paid 10 percent less than those at similar-sized hospitals in Boston, which is contributing to the turnover, Norton said.
"Staffing levels at the hospital are adequate and we have the proper care," Peter Brown, vice president of public affairs for Brigham and Women's, said last night. The union, he said, has not brought forward any staffing proposals during the negotiations.
"The staffing levels are a deflection for the union's number one issue, which is a double - digit pay increase for one year," he said.
The average full-time nurse at the hospital makes $90,000 a year, while more experienced nurses make $125,000 a year, excluding benefits and overtime, Brown said. The two sides have agreed to extend the contract's expiration date to Nov. 27. It was set to expire on Sept. 30.
The union is seeking a 5 percent annual pay increase, while the hospital is offering a 3 percent annual increase in a two-year contract. Other issues the union is raising include short-term disability benefit s, treatment of new hires, and protecting some nursing positions from being converted into nonunion management positions, Norton said.
The vote result will be announced tomorrow morning. Union and hospital officials are scheduled to negotiate again on Thursday.
UMass Memorial Medical Center and about 850 nurses there reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract less than five hours after nurses walked off their jobs on Oct. 26. The union ratified the contract in a vote of 544 to 1 on Friday. The agreement calls for an across-the-board 3 percent annual pay increase, in addition to 5 percent step increases up to a maximum of 15 steps on the pay scale. The hospital has said the agreement is worth 19 percent in salary enhancements over three years.
UMass tried to pre empt the strike by declaring a state of emergency and ordering nurses to stay at their posts. Some nurses complied, but others followed the union's instructions to strike. The last nursing strike in Massachusetts was in 2001 when Brockton Hospital nurses walked off their jobs for 103 days.
Nurses to vote whether to strike - The Boston Globe