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Question of the Week

Week of:

If I am a member of the MNA, could the union expect me to participate in any disruptive activities at and away from work?

Answer:  Probably yes, if history and what the MNA posts on its website tells us anything. 

The MNA routinely asks its members to engage in disruptive pressure tactics when its fails to get what it wants in contract negotiations.  Recent examples include

  • Flash mobs in hospital lobbies where patients and their families are present
  • Singing Christmas carol parodies criticizing the hospital and saying it was not a safe place to receive care
  • Asking nurses to wear black and blue scrubs to work every Wednesday symbolizing what the MNA called the beating management was giving nurses through their alleged dangerous staffing practices and onerous contract proposals

If that isn’t enough, the MNA also has posted on its website a document called "Collective Action Planner." In the document, the MNA makes it clear the MNA supports a wide assortment of behaviors to mobilize nurses against the hospitals where they work.  That document suggests several  disruptive activities that many of us would be embarrassed to even think of doing, including “march on the boss,” “marching into work together,” “sit down on the job,” “take over of office or meeting,” and “picketing manager's/director's home.” 

How can you best avoid being in a position where you might be expected by the MNA to engage in one or more of these acts?  Continue to refuse to sign an MNA authorization card.

Should I be concerned about the MNA's affiliation with the California Nurses Association?

Answer:  Yes.  The California Nurses Association ("CNA") acts like an ultra-militant strike-happy labor union.  The CNA recently issued a press release with the headline "Big Win for Nurses as Sutter War Ends."  Sutter War?  The press release also describes two years of negotiations during which the CNA orchestrated NINE strikes!  Nine strikes in two years does not sound like much of a win for anyone.  The CNA's combative relationship with hospital management is especially important because the CNA has much greater representation and influence in National Nurses United, a union in which both the MNA and the CNA are members.  This means that the CNA has a greater ability to influence the agenda of the NNU than you would as a member of the MNA.  If you think nine strikes in two years sounds more like a loss than a win, don’t sign a card authorizing the MNA to represent you. 

The MNA thinks this is a bad place to work, but what would they do to help?

Answer:  Last Fall, the MNA distributed documents claiming there was “low morale everywhere” at SSH and that the MNA could fix that and a host of other alleged problems the MNA claimed existed at SSH.  The MNA thought that if it told nurses SSH was a bad place to work, the nurses would blindly believe them and blissfully   pay the MNA to fix those problems..  As it turns out, the MNA’s claims were false, and, even if the MNA represented SSH nurses, the MNA could only “fix” something if SSH agreed to an MNA proposal to do so. 

No hospital is perfect, but we have a great track record of working through problems together in our shared governance model.  You should not trade this proven record of success for the MNA’s deceitful claims and empty promises. 

Do I need MNA representation to provide safe care?

Answer:  Of course not, but the MNA thinks you do.  Through the head of the MNA chapter at Jordan Hospital, the MNA is on record as saying so:

“the ability of nurses to have a union voice and the legal rights provided by collective bargaining are the most important vehicle we have to protect the public and to ensure that this facility provides a safe environment not only for patients but also for those who deliver the care.”

But where were these important collective bargaining rights that supposedly ensure a safe environment when elderly patients reportedly were largely ignored by the MNA-represented nurses who were responsible to care for them in a psychiatric unit for seniors at Quincy Medical Center?  It also was reported that these nurses left patients in beds without covers wearing only hospital gowns and let one patient’s calls go unanswered as she lay covered in feces.  Is this the kind of safe environment MNA representation provides for patients?  The simple truth is this: SSH nurses provide the best care in the area by working together with their colleagues.  The MNA has nothing to offer to improve the quality of care at SSH.

Could it be the MNA feels compelled to talk about collective bargaining rights in a feeble attempt to justify the ever-increasing dues it charges (increased again on July 1, 2013 to a minimum of almost $800.00 a year and a maximum of almost $1000 a year)?

If the MNA represented South Shore Hospital nurses, couldn't the MNA quickly negotiate better pay and working conditions for the nurses?

Answer:  This is unlikely if the MNA's current negotiations at other hospitals are any indication.  After 38 negotiating sessions at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, the MNA still has not reached a contract there.  In fact, the union has given up on reaching an agreement and instead asked the hospital to let an outsider – an arbitrator with no connection to the hospital -- determine what their contract should say about working there.  The MNA also has failed to reach an agreement with Brockton Hospital where the negotiations have stalled over health insurance and retirement benefits after a year and a half of bargaining.  Similarly, the nurses at Holy Family Hospital voted to be represented by the MNA in July 2011 and still are waiting for their first contract. 

These protracted negotiations are the result of the MNA's ineffectiveness at the bargaining table.  The law requires employers to bargain in good faith with unions about terms and conditions of employment, but the law also states that neither party has to agree to the other's proposals.  By routinely making unreasonable and unrealistic proposals in negotiations, the MNA causes negotiations to drag on for years, needlessly distracting nurses and administrators from their critical mission of providing quality care.  The MNA's model is bad for patients, nurses and their communities.  Our patients and nurses are better off with our current collaborative model which keeps us focused on our patients instead of the MNA's self-serving agenda.

If I joined the MNA would I have a voice in setting the agenda for South Shore Hospital nurses?

Answer:  Probably not.  The MNA often claims to be a democratic union run by its members, but is that really the case?  Consider the vote the MNA leadership orchestrated when it wanted to form National Nurses United along with the California Nurses Association.  The leadership scheduled that vote for a Wednesday in Brewster, at the elbow of Cape Cod.  Many members protested this arrangement knowing it would be difficult for any meaningful number of members to be present for that vote.  The MNA leaders ignored their members’ concerns and proceeded as planned.  The result was that only 390 out of nearly 23,000 members voted for this affiliation.  If the MNA leadership was willing to deny so many members the opportunity to voice their opinion about forming a national union, why would you expect to have a voice as a new member among 23,000?  The short answer is you can’t. 

If the MNA represented the nurses at SSH, the MNA likely would assign one of its employees to try to bargain a contract with SSH just as it does at other hospitals.  The MNA probably would allow a small number of SSH nurses to sit in on the bargaining as they do at other hospitals like Quincy Medical Center, Jordan Hospital and Brockton Hospital.  That does not give SSH nurses much voice at all.  The surest way to keep your voice and keep SSH the best hospital on the South Shore is to continue working together without the MNA trying to impose its leadership’s agenda on you and our hospital.

If we were covered by an MNA contract, would my manager be able to work directly with me to modify my schedule?

Answer:  Not under a typical MNA contract.  If the MNA represented the nurses at SSH, a contract covering all of the nurses would likely be negotiated. .  That means one set of rules for all nurses across the hospital, regardless of your particular circumstances.  So even if you have a history of successfully working with your manager to adjust your schedule to meet changes in your personal life, like new school schedules or caring for a parent, with a typical MNA contract, your manager’s hands would be tied.  He or she would have to follow the typically rigid terms of the contract and would not have the discretion to do more for you.  If you currently enjoy the substantial flexibility that your manager can provide around scheduling, then the typical MNA contract would be a significant change for the worse for you.  The best way to maintain that flexibility is to choose to continue to work directly with your manager, without a restrictive union contract.  With MNA representation, you will give the MNA the power to negotiate a one-size-fits-all scheduling system that can ultimately limit your ability to work with your manager to adjust your work hours to accommodate changes in your schedule outside of work. 

Will the MNA help us attract patients?

Answer:  No, because telling people about the great care you provide is not part of the MNA’s agenda.  We know that by working together we provide high quality care at SSH.  Others have taken note of this fact.  Just recently, US News & World Report ranked us the fifth best hospital in the Boston Metro area and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses conferred a silver-level Beacon Award for Excellence on our Critical Care Units, which include the Mixed Intensive Care Unit, Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Cardiac Care Unit. 

These accolades stand in sharp contrast to what the MNA has said about us.  The MNA said the fact that we are designated a Magnet hospital “is sufficient to illustrate the meaninglessness of the label.”  Regarding other hospitals, the MNA has routinely criticized the quality of care the nurses they represent provide their patients.  With this track record, it is safe to assume MNA representation will not help get the word out about the great patient care we provide.  And if that is not enough to demonstrate the MNA will not help us attract patients, consider this:  Four of the hospitals on The Leapfrog Group's list of the 25 worst-performing hospitals in the country are staffed by nurses represented by National Nurses United – the “super union” that the MNA helped found.  In short, nothing about being linked to the MNA is likely to make patients want to receive care at SSH.  And that is not good for any of us.

August 19 - Would I have any voice within the union if the MNA represented SSH nurses and I refused to become an MNA member?

Answer:  No.  As we have reported in the past, every MNA contract we have seen includes a union security clause that requires nurses it represents to either pay union dues or an agency fee as a condition of continued employment.  The MNA recently published a notice regarding nurses’ rights to pay an agency fee instead of joining the union and paying expensive union dues.  This is what the MNA said about this Hobson’s choice:

You have the right under [federal labor law] to decide for yourself whether to be a member of MNA.  If you choose not to be a member, you may still be required to pay an agency fee to cover the cost of MNA’s efforts on your behalf.  If you choose to pay an agency fee rather than membership dues, you are not entitled to attend union meetings; you cannot vote on ratification of contracts or other agreements between the employer and the union; you will not have a voice in union elections or other internal affairs of the union and you will not enjoy “members only” benefits.

The notice goes on to remind nurses that the agency fee is 95% of the MNA’s hefty dues, which are a minimum of $66.14/month (nearly $800/year) and a maximum of $82.90/month (nearly $1,000/year).

What may all this mean for you?  Here’s what—if the MNA represented the nurses at SSH and you did not want to become a member, you would not have no voice—no right to tell the MNA what you want them to do for you.  (Not that there is any guarantee they would listen anyway – see the Questions of the Week for August 5 and August 12.)

Right now you have the ability to continue to have a voice at work and to speak for yourself, all at no expense.  How do you keep it that way?  Simple—refuse to sign an MNA authorization card and tell any MNA representative you are not interested in what he or she is selling.

August 12 - If I pay MNA dues, can I rely on the MNA to advocate for me?

Answer:  No.  Time and time again, the MNA has failed to live up to its promise to advocate for nurses even as it collects hefty dues from its members.  Here’s a recent example.  For many months, the MNA has been negotiating a settlement with UMass Memorial Medical Center over a dispute about overtime pay.  The MNA told its members it had hoped to have the settlement finalized before August, but it failed to do so.  To make matters worse, the MNA recently learned that a mailing had gone out to the nurses it represents inviting them to participate in a class action settlement obtained by lawyers with no connection to the MNA that the MNA acknowledges may pay some nurses more than they will get under the MNA’s settlement.  Now the MNA is recommending that these nurses hold off on signing up for the class action settlement until the MNA learns more about it.  The nurses have to make a decision about participating in the other settlement by early September, and yet the MNA expects them to wait around while the MNA figures out what is going on. 

 This isn’t the first time the MNA has let down nurses.  As we reported in March, a nurse filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board because the MNA failed to represent six nurses in a grievance the nurses filed about the loss of seniority dates when there was a reduction in force.  The nurse stated in her charge that the "MNA has divided the group by restoring seniority dates to some of the RNs and not others even though we are in the same circumstances." 

The MNA is not a reliable advocate.  The MNA has a track record of failing to advocate—either competently or even at all—for the nurses its represents.  The simple truth is that no one can advocate better for you than you can by working directly with us. 

August 5 - Would collective bargaining be good for South Shore Hospital nurses?

Answer:  No.  Besides the fact that nothing is guaranteed, a major problem with collective bargaining is it requires nurses to give up their right to advocate for themselves, as individuals.  The MNA may tell you there is power in a collective voice, but what good is the collective voice if it argues for the MNA's agenda over what you want for yourself?  That is what happened  at Quincy Medical Center, where, after a one-day strike, the MNA negotiated a one-year contract that freezes the nurses' wages and allows for increased use of per diem nurses -- all so the MNA can advance its patient ratios agenda and claim it won "an enforceable commitment to staffing on in-patient units to ensure safe patient care."  Not much after18 months of collective bargaining and a one-day strike. 

We already provide the highest quality, safe patient care at SSH.  We can provide this level of care because our nurses, physicians, and ancillary staff are committed to working together as a team to do the best for our patients.  That teamwork and care is enhanced by your input on nursing procedures through our shared governance model.  We provide this quality care together, because that is what we, as caregivers, do.    Unlike the MNA, we do not believe that quality care is a bargaining chip and a self-serving agenda item – it is what we do.   

July 29 - Is there risk associated with signing a Massachusetts Nurses Association authorization card?

Answer:  Yes, in fact, there is a lot of risk associated with signing an MNA authorization card.  An MNA authorization card is a legally binding document by which you agree to make the MNA your “exclusive representative” at work.  This means you give the MNA control over your wages, hours, benefits and all other conditions of employment at bargaining with the Hospital.  It also means that it is the MNA, and not you, that decides whether your job-related issues are important enough to pursue. Signing a card is like signing and handing a blank check dealing with your important job rights to the MNA.  The MNA will try to make you feel good about relinquishing those rights by making lots of promises to get you to sign the card, but the truth is it cannot guarantee any of those promises. 

Even worse, if enough nurses sign these MNA authorization cards, you may not even get a chance to vote in a secret ballot election on whether or not you want a union.  That is because union cards can be used by the MNA to get into SSH without our nurses having the opportunity to vote in a secret ballot election.  

As you can see, there is real risk associated with signing these cards.  This is why we have been providing you information about the MNA and these cards.  There is one more important reason why we believe you should not sign a card -- because you, our patients, and our hospital are better off working together, without the interference of the MNA.  It is always better for patient care when we collaborate for the good of our patients and colleagues than when the MNA pushes its self-serving conflict-based agenda (Quincy, Morton, etc.) without regard to what is best for all of us. 

July 22 - Is it expensive to be represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association?

Answer:  Yes, it is -- in more ways than one.  

MNA representation is very expensive and it just got even more expensive.  The MNA raised its dues again on July 1, 2013.  The MNA increased the minimum dues to $66.14/month (nearly $800/year) and increased the maximum dues rate to $82.90/month (nearly $1,000/year)!  

What other ways is MNA representation expensive?  With union representation, you can give up your right to speak for yourself about your terms and conditions of work.  You pay the MNA up to $1000 a year to speak for you instead of speaking for yourself, directly, about issues like your individual scheduling and time-off needs.  Ask yourself -- how could an MNA employee with responsibility for hundreds and even thousands of nurses working at various hospitals possibly have the time or interest to take care of your individual needs?  And how could the MNA employee do a better job than you can representing your needs? 

If you believe, as we do, that the best way to create the best environment at SSH is by working together, then tell the MNA you are not interested in the expensive representation it is selling. 

June 24 - Can the MNA alone make my job better?

Answer:  No, but together we can.  Today your manager can work directly with  you to understand your concerns and make changes to improve your work experience  at South Shore Hospital.  Remember, if the MNA represents you, it would also represent several hundred other nurses at SSH.  There is no guarantee the MNA would even be interested in bringing your individual concerns to our attention.  In fact, the MNA may have an agenda completely different from—even hostile to—your concerns. And even if the union did bring your concerns to our attention, all the MNA could do is ask us to bargain about them.  The MNA could not make SSH implement any changes that SSH did not believe are in the best interests of our patients, our employees, and the hospital.  

Why pay nearly $1000 yearly in union dues, year after year, to the MNA when there is no guarantee  the MNA would even communicate your concerns to SSH and the union could not make SSH do anything?  Direct communication is best and you are in the best position today to effectuate changes in your job by working directly with your manager.  

June 17 - Will the Massachusetts Nurses Association make me a better nurse? The MNA is on record saying that nurses represented by unions provide better patient care than nurses who are not represented by unions.

Answer:  No, and what an insult to you that is.  The MNA may think  the nurses they represent at Brockton Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Jordan Hospital, and Quincy Medical Center are better nurses than you, but we know better.  South Shore Hospital has the best nurses and provides the best nursing care of any hospital on the South Shore.  And we will continue to improve upon our already high level of nursing care by working together using our shared governance model.  Remember, the MNA rejects that approach and opposes the Magnet program.  Do you really think an organization with those regressive views can help make you a better nurse?

The MNA is a labor union, plain and simple.  It is not a professional nurses organization.     

June 10 - Can the MNA provide job security as hospitals face cuts in reimbursement for their services?

Answer:  The MNA has not protected nurses from layoffs as hospitals struggle with lower reimbursement rates and declining censuses.  In early June, Boston Medical Center and Jordan Hospital announced plans to lay off MNA-represented nurses.  Below are excerpts from news coverage of these announcements.  MNA representatives are quoted in both stories.

Boston Medical Center weighs plan to close aging East Newton campus and eliminate 85 beds.  The Boston Globe, June 4, 2013.

Boston Medical Center is weighing a plan to close an aging part of its sprawling campus and eliminate about 85 of its 496 beds, as it braces for state and federal budget cuts and intensified pressure to shift more care to outpatient settings...“We have concerns that the plan they’re moving towards is going to displace more than 400 nurses eventually from the old University Hospital,” said [MNA spokesman David] Schildmeier.

Jordan Hospital layoffs looming; Jordan will close inpatient floor. Wicked Local Plymouth, June 1, 2013.

Jordan Hospital is closing one of its inpatient floors as part of a consolidation plan certain to result in layoffs...A spokesman for the nurses union said as many as 64 nurses will be impacted by the consolidation, but the number of actual layoffs should be much less.

The MNA does not have the power to force these hospitals to change their plans to lay off these nurses.  Apparently, the MNA are just bystanders as nurses are laid off.  

These news stories about the lay-offs of MNA-represented nurses demonstrate that MNA promises of job security are nothing more than empty campaign promises.

June 3 - If the MNA represented me, is there any guarantee that a contract would preserve what we like at work today?

Answer:  No, there is no guarantee at all.  As we said before, the MNA represents only a small number of the total membership of National Nurses United ("NNU"), the national union that all MNA members must join.  California Nurses Association ("CNA"), another member of the NNU, has almost four times as many members as the MNA.  The CNA's members make up nearly half of the NNU's total membership.  It stands to reason that the California nurses will have more say in the NNU agenda than the MNA members. And it is that agenda that will govern what the MNA tries to negotiate in bargaining.  What if they don’t care at all about what you like about SSH?  What if they want something completely opposite from what you like now?

While we acknowledge that SSH is not perfect, we have a lot going for us.  Today, nurses and managers work closely together to provide quality care.  Your managers have the ability to work with you individually to provide the scheduling flexibility that is so important to many of you.  We are engaged in a shared governance model that lets nurses and managers collaborate on bringing the best nursing practices to our patients' bedside.  Why would you want to risk giving up in bargaining what you like by giving your voice in these important matters to an organization—like the MNA—that has to answer to a different agenda that is heavily influenced by nurses you have never met in California?

May 27 - What do you know about National Nurses United?

Answer:  If the MNA has its way, you will know very little about National Nurses United ("NNU").  The NNU is a national nurses union that was founded in 2009.  The MNA is one of three founding members of the NNU along with the confrontative California Nurses Association ("CNA") and United American Nurses.  The CNA is by far the largest of these three organizations.  Today, the CNA has more than 86,000 members while the MNA has just 23,000.

As we explained last week, all MNA members must become members of the NNU.  So what does the NNU stand for?

  • The NNU is an ultra-militant union that has engaged in or scheduled strikes at five hospitals in the first five months of 2013, including two hospitals in Massachusetts
  • Many MNA-represented nurses were opposed to joining the NNU
  • The NNU opposes the Magnet program
  • The NNU views hospitals as opponents rather than as partners in providing quality care to patients

These positions taken by the NNU are not consistent with the commitment to quality care that we share here at South Shore Hospital.  If you chose to be a member of the NNU, you would have a hard time persuading the NNU to change these positions—with approximately 900 nurses working at the hospital and in the Home Care Division, you would comprise only a tiny portion of the NNU's 185,000 nurse membership.  In other words, if you choose to be represented by the MNA, you run the risk of being required to follow an agenda determined by militant nurses working in California whose agenda may be substantially different than yours.

May 20 - How could the relationship between the Massachusetts Nurses Association and National Nurses United impact you?

Answer:  In many ways: 

Whatever “voice” you might hope to gain through union representation could be completely negated. You may have noticed that those meetings invitations the Massachusetts Nurses Association (“MNA”) sends you, are co-branded with the National Nurses United (“NNU”).  The MNA, with 23,000 members, is just one small member of the NNU which has close to 185,000 members.   

 To make matters worse,  while the MNA has only 23,000 members, its fellow founding member, the California Nurses Association (“CNA”) has more than 86,000 members—nearly four times as many as the MNA!  So what does this mean for nurses who are represented by the MNA?  Your opinion will count for nothing unless you agree with the CNA. 

Any nurse who joins the MNA must also join the NNU.  This means nurses who become members of the MNA are bound by two restrictive rule books -- the MNA Constitution and the NNU Constitution. 

There are approximately 900 nurses working at the hospital and the Home Care Division.  This means if you were represented by the MNA, you would be an insignificant part of the MNA and an even less significant part of the NNU. 

Under any of these scenarios, it would be very difficult for SSH nurses to have any influence over the MNA’s agenda or the NNU’s agenda.  The bottom line is this: with MNA and NNU representation, you would be a very small fish in a big pond.  If your opinion isn’t in sync with the other members of the MNA, or even worse, the NNU, your opinion wouldn’t count at all.

May 13 - Will the MNA reduce the number of patients we care for?

Answer:  Not very likely based on the MNA’s track record.  Since January 1, the MNA has publicly stated that the staffing is unsafe at five hospitals where they represent nurses.  How can you expect them to reduce the number of patients you care for, when they have been unsuccessful doing so at these other hospitals where they have represented the nurses for many years?  The fact of the matter is that the MNA cannot honestly promise you that it will be able to cause any changes to the number of patients you care for.  This is the case because even if the MNA somehow came to represent the nurses at South Shore Hospital, the law does not require the Hospital to agree to any proposal the MNA makes.  We would bargain in good faith, but that does not mean we would have to agree to any proposal—including those regarding staffing—made by the union. The MNA’s failure to effect staffing for the nurses it already represents has proven that point over and over again. Ask the nurses who went out on strike at Quincy Medical Center what the MNA has done for them on staffing. 

May 6 - Will the MNA improve my nursing practice?

Answer:  Not very likely based on how the MNA has done elsewhere.  The MNA is a labor union, not a professional nurse’s organization.  All it could do for your practice if it somehow came to represent the nurses at SSH would be to negotiate with the Hospital about practice-related issues.  However, the MNA's track record shows it has been unsuccessful in negotiating improvements in nursing practices.  Just read the public statements nurses it represents have made criticizing the care they give at hospitals like Quincy Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, UMass Memorial Medical Center, and Merrimack Valley Hospital.  And, do not forget that the MNA is opposed to a very important practice-related program – the Magnet program – that you participate in.   The MNA has such disdain for that program it has insulted it and the care you give saying, “The fact that South Shore Hospital was Magnet designated last year is sufficient to illustrate the meaninglessness of the label.”

The evidence is clear: the MNA likes to set up picket lines and rallies with nurses wielding noisemakers and shouting through bullhorns about unsafe staffing and poor care by nurses, but it has done nothing to improve the practice of the nurses it represents. 

April 29 - Is it true the MNA will definitely bring back the super diffs?

Answer: No. If the MNA somehow represents the SSH nurses, it can do no more than ask the Hospital to restore the super diffs. No MNA promise comes true unless the Hospital agrees. And, we are unaware that the MNA has negotiated super diffs at other hospitals where it represents nurses. 

When the MNA finds it is unable to keep its promises, it often takes drastic action such as asking the nurses it represents to authorize a strike. The MNA takes this negative action under the guise of trying to pressure a hospital into changing its positions in negotiations.  Often, this means trying to coerce a hospital into making a decision that is not in the best interests of the hospital, its patients and the nurses. Recent examples of this type of behavior include the strike authorization vote at Quincy Medical Center. There, the hospital announced the closure an inpatient unit on the heels of the MNA and its supporters distributing leaflets to the community saying the hospital does not provide safe care. Another example is the April 11 strike authorization vote scheduled for UMass Medical Center nurses. The MNA has been negotiating with the medical center for 14 months and has not been able to persuade the hospital to agree to its staffing proposals.

April 22 - Would I get my job back after a strike?

Answer:  Not necessarily.  SSH could permanently replace nurses who went out on an economic strike.  (An economic striker is one who is striking other than in protest of an alleged unfair labor practice.  Economic strikers are typically on strike for higher wages or better benefits.)  This means that SSH is not required to get rid of the replacements to make room for returning strikers once the strike ends.  Strikers who want to come back may have to join a preferential reinstatement list and wait for jobs to open up.  That may or may not ever happen.

Even if you were not permanently replaced and did return to work at SSH after a strike, ask yourself what it would be like to work here after a strike.  Many of you know nurses who lived through the strike at Brockton Hospital and may even had heard stories about a lack of teamwork and an "us versus them" environment between nurses who went out on strike and those who continued to care for patients.  Ask yourself if you would be willing to risk the sense of community we have here today by backing an agenda set by the increasingly strike-happy MNA.

April 15 - What happens to my pay and benefits if there is a strike?

Answer:  If you strike, SSH would not pay you during the strike and you would be responsible for the full cost of your insurance coverage.  Insurance coverage is very expensive, so it would be difficult to pay for that coverage when you are no longer being paid because you are out on strike. 

April 8 - Could there be a nurses’ strike at South Shore Hospital?

Answer:  Without a union, it is almost a certainty that there will not be a nurses’ strike at SSH.  However, with a union, the threat of a strike will always be with us.  Based on the MNA’s record and its apparent fondness for strikes and picketing, if the MNA were to represent nurses at SSH, the possibility that you might have to go on strike, picket, demonstrate, and yell negative statements about SSH in public would always exist. 

We’re not saying that, if the MNA somehow gets in at SSH, you would have to go out on strike.  In fact, we hope that would never happen.  Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of the MNA’s willingness to strike at local hospitals, including at Quincy Medical Center, where the nurses who are represented by the MNA are scheduled to go on strike on April 11 and at UMass Memorial Medical Center, where the MNA is holding a strike authorization vote for the nurses it represents there.

April 1 - Could there be picketing or a strike at South Shore Hospital?

Answer:  Yes.  Since January 1, 2011, the MNA has picketed at no fewer than 10 hospitals, and the union has picketed at some of those hospitals on multiple occasions.  Just this week, nurses represented by the MNA voted for a one-day strike at Quincy Medical Center. The one-day strike will be accompanied by picketing at QMC.

What is the “story behind the story” of MNA picketing?  First, every MNA member is expected to participate in the picketing at the hospital where he or she works.  Second, as we have explained, most MNA contracts contain a clause that requires nurses to become members or agency fee payers and pay 95% of expensive MNA dues without the right to vote on whether to engage in picketing.  Third, picketing by nurses represented by the MNA often involves a nurse shouting anti-hospital slogans through a bullhorn while their colleagues, many with their children in tow, march around the hospital joining in the chant. 

March 25 - Will the MNA give me job security?

Answer:  No.  During the last few years nurses represented by the MNA have been laid off at several hospitals including Jordan Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and UMass Memorial Medical Center.  We are not aware of a single MNA contract that prohibits layoffs.  So what does the MNA really mean when it says it can get you job security?  It means it may be able to negotiate contract language that states that if there is a layoff, senior nurses can bump less senior nurses out of their positions.

We also are not aware of any MNA contract that prohibits a hospital from terminating a nurse's employment for reasons other than a layoff.  Sure, the MNA has contracts that say that a hospital can only terminate a nurse for just cause.  But what is that really worth to you?  We terminate very few nurses here because we work hard to hire the best nurses in the area.  When we do terminate a nurse, we do so because he or she is behaving or performing in a manner that does not meet the expectations that we as a Magnet hospital expect of each other and we do so after working with the nurse to achieve success.  A just cause provision in a contract would not prevent us from terminating a nurse under those circumstances.  More importantly, as a nurse, do you want to be represented by an organization that would try to prevent us from removing a nurse who does not meet the high standards we have established through joint governance? 

March 18 - Will I have everything I have today and then some with an MNA contract?

Answer:  Probably not.  MNA contracts are the result of collective bargaining -- there is no such thing as a “standard” MNA contract.  Each and every line of the contract is subject to negotiation. 

When the MNA bargains a contract with a hospital, it is a process of give and take.  That means you could end up with the same as you have today, less than you have today, or more than you have today as a result of negotiations.  There are no guarantees in collective bargaining, so no one knows with certainty whether you will have everything or even anything you have today in an MNA contract. 

We do know that, in negotiations, the MNA often will trade something the nurses currently have in exchange for something the MNA wants for itself in the contract.  We also know that a union security provision—whether it is a union shop clause or an agency fee clause—is one of the things the MNA absolutely wants in its contracts because it puts your money in the MNA’s pockets. We have not seen an MNA contract that does not include one.  These clauses require every nurse covered by the contract to either join the MNA and pay expensive union dues or pay an agency fee to the MNA (the fee is currently 95% of the MNA's standard expensive dues).  What would you be willing to give up that you currently receive so the MNA can get the agency fee clause it wants in the contract? 

March 11 - Will I have any say in contract negotiations?

Answer:  Very little.  There are approximately 900 nurses working at South Shore Hospital and its home care division.  Obviously, not all of the nurses can sit at the bargaining table to negotiate with the hospital's representatives.  The MNA typically creates a team of 10-15 nurses to sit on the negotiating committee.  It will be that small group that is reviewing the hospital's proposals and making proposals on your behalf.  These proposals often get drafted during the negotiating session, so there is little opportunity for the nurses on the bargaining committee to go back and ask each of you what you think about a proposal.  Instead, the nurses on the bargaining committee usually look to the MNA representative for guidance on which proposals to make, which to reject, and which to accept.  Are you comfortable letting an employee of the MNA and nurses you may not know make decisions for you about your scheduling, staffing, pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment?

March 4 - Can the MNA guarantee me a better work schedule?

Answer: No. Today, your managers have the flexibility to work with you to adjust your schedule to accommodate changes in your life. If you were represented by the MNA, the union and SSH would negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that would dictate the process for setting the work schedules for all of the nurses. The processes in a different MNA contracts are rigid and does not provide accommodations for even the most legitimate personal needs of a nurse or the nurse’s family. MNA-negotiated contract leave nurse managers with little of the discretion they have today to respond to the legitimate scheduling needs of nurses, and that’s just how the MNA wants it. The MNA wants a rigid set of one-size-fits-all rules that proscribe the terms and conditions of employment for everybody regardless of his or her personal circumstances. But we doubt that you do.

February 25 - Is it true that the MNA can stop all floating?

Answer:  No.  First, the MNA has negotiated contracts that expressly permit hospitals to float nurses. Second, even if the MNA to represents you, it cannot force South Shore Hospital to agree to any proposal—including one regarding floating—that SSH believes is not in the best interests of the hospital or its patients.  The law requires employers and unions to bargain in good faith, but it does not require them to reach an agreement.  If you let the MNA speak for you, we would bargain in good faith with the union, but we would not agree to any MNA proposal that could frustrate SSH’s ability to meet the needs of our patients.  While we work hard to limit floating today, there are times when it is necessary to float nurses.  The MNA cannot change the fact that sometimes nurses need to float to meet patient care needs.

February 18 - Can the Massachusetts Nurses Association guarantee it will bring back the vacation system?

Answer:  No.  There are no guarantees in collective bargaining. The MNA may say they will bring back the old vacation system, but the old system will return only if South Shore Hospital agrees to bring it back.  The law does not require either party to agree to any proposal made by the other party or even to reach an agreement at all.  Rather, the law requires the parties to bargain in good faith, and we would certainly do this if the nurses at SSH chose to be represented by the MNA. 

But the reasons why we changed the old vacation system would remain regardless of MNA representation.  We put a lot of thought into the new PTO system and decided to convert to it because we believed it was the right thing to do. The reasons for this change will remain even if the MNA asked us to go back to the old vacation system.

Of course, there is no assurance the MNA would even propose to return to the old system?  After all, the MNA has agreed to PTO at several hospitals, including Good Samaritan Medical Center, Jordan Hospital, Tobey Hospital, and Beverly Hospital.

The bottom line is this: beware of MNA promises.  As it has done so many times, the MNA may tell you what you want to hear, but they so often fail to deliver.

February 11 -  How long does it take to negotiate a contract?

Answer:  The short answer: it can take a long time, particularly for a first contract.  Every word of the contract needs to be negotiated. There is no “standard union contract” that can simply be downloaded from the Internet or taken off a shelf at the union office. Every hospital—and the nurses who work there—have unique requirements and needs, and it takes a great deal of time to discuss them and write a contract which deals with them.

Add to this the fact that the law on collective bargaining requires the parties to bargain in good faith, but it does not require either party to agree to the other’s proposals or to make concessions.  In fact, the law does not require that the parties reach an agreement at all!  If the MNA represented the nurses here, we would bargain in good faith, of course.

Here are some examples of recent contract negotiations between the Massachusetts Nurses Association and hospitals where the MNA represents nurses:

Baystate Franklin Medical Center:  More than 30 negotiating sessions in over 12 months and still no new contract

Holy Family Hospital:  Bargaining for a first contract since December 2011 and still no contract

MetroWest Medical Center:  More than 15 negotiation sessions since November 2011 and still no new contract

UMass Memorial Medical Center:  Bargaining since February 2012 (University campus) and November 2011 (Memorial campus) and still no new contract

When you think about all of the competing interests that need to be taken into account in a collective bargaining agreement, that every collective bargaining agreement is unique and every word must be carefully considered, the complicated environment in which we work, and the law on collective bargaining, you can readily see why it could take months or even years of good faith negotiations to reach a first contract for nurses in a hospital.

February 4 - Will I get a better vacation schedule with the Massachusetts Nurses Association?

Answer:  Maybe, maybe not.  The parties would negotiate about time off, but it would only be one of many, many subjects of bargaining.  There are no guarantees with collective bargaining; no one knows what the result of negotiations may be.  Sometimes in collective bargaining, a union will settle for a less favorable vacation benefit in exchange for getting something else like a union security clause that requires all nurses to pay dues or an agency fee as a condition of working at the hospital.

The MNA has negotiated different time off provisions, including both paid time off systems like the one that went into effect here on January 1 and the outdated vacation and sick leave system that we replaced.  While these provisions differ from hospital to hospital, one concept stands out – seniority rules. 

MNA contracts generally have a rigid procedure for selecting vacation dates that is driven by seniority.  The more senior you are the more likely it is you will get the vacation schedule you want. 

You may be thinking that is a fair way to address vacation scheduling because everyone gets the chance to be “senior” if they stay at South Shore Hospital long enough.  But, what happens if you are a nurse on a unit where everyone stays for a long time?  In other words, what if you are in the bottom third in seniority on your unit and most of your colleagues have just a couple of more years of service at SSH than you do?  If you all keep working here, you would always be one of the last people to pick a vacation week on your unit under an MNA-style vacation provision. 

How would you feel if after 20 years of working at SSH you still could not get a week of vacation in July or take time off during a school vacation week because your more senior colleagues chose those weeks ahead of you every year?  We think you are better off now as your manager has the flexibility to consider seniority, but also make allowances for fairness so that the same people do not have a monopoly on all the most sought-after weeks off.  MNA-style seniority driven vacation provisions do not allow management to exercise this discretion in a fair way.

January 28 - Will I have to join the MNA if they represent the SSH nurses?

Answer:  Regardless of whether you join the MNA, you will be paying the MNA.  Here’s why.  In every MNA contract we have seen, the MNA has negotiated what is called a “union security clause.”  The way a union security clause works, an employee must either join the union and pay union dues or become an “agency fee payer,” and pay that portion of the union dues that covers the union’s costs for collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment. 

The MNA determines the amount of the agency fee.  Currently, the MNA sets the agency fee at 95% of its regular dues rate.  The MNA dues range from $780/year to $958/year.  So, even if you elect to pay an agency fee, you would still be paying the MNA a lot of money ($741-$910 each year).  As an agency fee payer, you give up important rights to have a say in what happens to you at work.  For example, as an agency fee payer, you will not have a right to vote on

  • Whether or not to ratify a contract
  • Whether or not to authorize a strike
  • Who to elect as your representative in contract negotiations and other union activities

Agency fee payers pay a lot of money to the MNA to represent them, but they have no voice in what the MNA does with that money or in the positions the MNA takes on their behalf.

When a contract contains a union security clause, payment of union dues or an agency fee is a term and condition of employment.  In other words, if the MNA negotiates a union security clause, as it has done at Brockton Hospital, Jordan Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center, and Carney Hospital, to name just a few, the MNA can ask SSH to fire any nurse who has not paid dues or an agency fee, or has fallen behind on those payments.  In this example, SSH would be contractually obligated to fire the nurse even if she was a great nurse who was not paying her dues because, for example, her husband had been laid off.