BMC working within its own union contracts when hiring former NARH employees


NORTH ADAMS -- The unionized health care workers from the former North Adams Regional Hospital who are landing jobs as Berkshire Medical Center employees are doing so within the provisions of BMC's labor contracts with the unions.

Officials with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and service workers' union 1199 SEIU say they have no substantive issues with the process as BMC sets up emergency and related services at the former hospital to open later this month.

Berkshire Health Systems, BMC's parent company, works with both unions and will continue to do so, according to a statement.

"BMC and the unions have agreed that former employees of NARH who are hired by BMC to work at the North Adams site will be represented by those unions, as they had been before, but under the terms and conditions of the BMC contracts," said Michael Leary, the spokesman for Berkshire Health Systems. "BMC and the unions are now finalizing the details of those arrangements."

"We'll be monitoring their hiring practices and making sure they're fair, but there is no labor dispute here," said Michael Fadel, director of campaigns for MNA. "We're standing shoulder-to-shoulder in seeking a swift restoration of health care services to the region."

The sentiment was echoed by 1199 SEIU, the largest union at the former NARH facility.

"Health care workers of 1199 are encouraged that BMC has expressed that they will recognize the union," said Jeff Hall, a spokesman for 1199 SEIU. "As the process moves forward, there will be more formal discussions regarding specific terms within existing contracts and how those will apply to caregivers as they return to the facility."

North Adams Regional Hos pital closed on March 28 when its parent company ran out of money.

Fadel said the MNA has represented nurses at BMC for about 40 years and about 600 MNA nurses are employed there. About 110 MNA nurses had been employed in North Adams.

Hall said the 1199 SEIU had about 200 clerical, service and technical workers at NARH before it closed. SEIU already represents about 70 employees at BMC who are under a collectively bargained contract, including 50 LPNs and 17 technical workers. Service and clerical workers have not organized at BMC, as they had at NARH.

Moving forward, the union and BHS are expected to discuss how the former NARH service and clerical workers, which are not unionized at BMC, will be addressed if hired at a new Berkshire Med ical Center facility.

"There is an existing contract for 1199 members who already work at BMC, and part of the discussion will be how those specific job titles and terms may apply to [former] NARH workers as they return to the facility," Hall said.

Former NARH nurses, if hired by BMC, would work under the existing MNA contract with BMC, Fadel said.

"We don't have any concerns about BMC being the employer," Fadel added. "There are far worse employers around the state."

The only conversation that is still ongoing between the unions and BMC, he noted, was the issue of seniority in hiring.

"The only concern we have is that as openings arise, BMC give significant consideration to experienced workers," Fadel said. "But we have every reason to be hopeful that we will reach an agreement to that affect."

He said wages and benefits are not in dispute.

There are about 23,000 members of MNA statewide. SEIU represents more than 47,000 Massachusetts workers.

"There are bumps in the road with any labor relationship," Fadel said. "But generally speaking, it is a good relationship. We see BMC going in there [the former NARH] as a positive."

When NARH closed, it left 530 employees jobless. After its parent company, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Berk shire Health Systems negotiated a purchase of the North Adams facility for $4 million, along with an interim agreement to operate an emergency medical facility out of the former hospital emergency room until the purchase can be finalized in July.

Bankruptcy law requires a 45-day period to allow other potential bidders to make offers on the purchase of the property. BMC officials anticipate opening the emergency department in mid May, and to take full ownership of the hospital in July, in the absence of a higher bidder.

Since the closing, former employees and union officials have been pressing state officials and the courts to facilitate a speedy restoration of full hospital services and the hiring of as many of the former NARH employees as possible.


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