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UMass Memorial sets one-day strike, 5/15/13

If the strike plans go through, it would be the largest nurses strike in the state’s history, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

The strike would see more than 2,000 nurses walk off the job to protest cuts in nursing and support staff in the past two years, which they insist will greatly affect patient care. They say the cuts have taken UMass Memorial Medical Center from being the “best staffed hospital in the city to the worst.” They also state that the hospital has fallen to the lowest rungs of the rankings in the state for quality patient care.

The decision to issue an official strike notice within the required 10-day period came after two rounds of contract negotiations between the nurses union and UMass Memorial officials this past Friday and Monday. Those talks were the latest in more than a year of negotiations for a new contact.

Nurses claim that they are at an impasse in negotiations over their calls for safer RN staffing levels, poor patient care conditions, a shortage of resources and six rounds of layoffs in the past two years that has affected “hundreds” of registered nurses and support staff.

Meanwhile, UMass Memorial Medical Center officials say they have negotiated in good faith with the nurses association but that the union has “repeatedly demonstrated, rather than working cooperatively to address the profound changes occurring in health care, their preferred approach to negotiations is to use the threat of a strike and allegations of unsafe staffing as tools to achieve their bargaining objectives despite the impact that such tactics have on patients and employees.”

Hospital officials said they were “not surprised” but “very disappointed” to learn of the strike authorization vote and that the nurses decision “should be consistent with the shared sacrifices” of other medical center non-union managers and staff.

The also charged that the Massachusetts Nursing Association has used the threat of strike eight times in the past two years during contract negotiations, basing the decision on allegations of “unsafe staffing.”

Nurses state that medical research shows nurses with a six or seven patient assignment load, which they state the hospital insists on, will place all of those patients at a 14-21 percent increased risk of death.

While they maintain that they have agreed to 16 of the nursing union’s proposals, they do not agree with the MNA’s insistence on using a mandatory staffing radio proposal because such proposals, the hospital states, “does not improve the quality of care.”

If the strike is carried out, it will begin at 6 a.m. on Thursday, May 23 and end at 6 a.m. on Friday, May 24. The nurses say they have offered hospital officials four dates in the interim for negotiations.

"No nurse wants to strike, but our nurses are committed to do whatever we need to do to protect our patients," said Lynne Starbard, co-chair of the nurses' local bargaining unit. "Perhaps now management will do what is necessary to reach a fair settlement with safe staffing for quality patient care."


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