7/19/07

Nurses union pickets Mass. hospital

“Be fair to those who care.” Those are the words of about 100 nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital. Wednesday, the union picketed outside the hospital to send a strong message to the management. The union has been negotiating a new contract with the hospital since January. And with no solution in sight yet, some nurses who've worked there more than 30 years say they feel let down.

This is the first time in ten years employees with the Massachusetts Nurses Association say they've been forced to the picket lines at North Adams Regional Hospital. Union members and hospital management can't come to an agreement on the workers' pension plans. Nurses say the new plan would force them to pay more toward their retirement, up to 5% and they can't afford it. Hospital spokesman Paul Hopkins wouldn't get into the details but says it's going to cost the facility more than a million dollars to keep the current plan going, money he says, that's not there.

Through signs, chants and billboards, the nurses are trying to get the attention and support of the patients they serve. One nurse told me there's a shortage in her field as it is. And if these changes go through, the hospital could have a tough time recruiting new nurses and keeping who they have.

“We all have that option. There’s other hospitals close by and we all need to protect our financial security,” said Ruth O’Hearn, a registered nurse.

“We’re conscious of the fact that there are other hospitals within our region and that nurses are in demand. And we understand our obligation and we take it seriously to continue to provide competitive wages and salaries, benefits and a retirement plan,” said Hospital spokesman Paul Hopkins.

About nine months ago workers at a hospital in Worcester went on strike for a similar issue. Nurses at North Adams do not want it to come to that here, though they say they'd be prepared if they had to. There is another negotiation session scheduled for Thursday.

(wnyt.com)

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