Pittsfield RNs approve contract with Berkshire Medical Center

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local voted Thursday to ratify a new pay pact with Berkshire Medical Center that runs through September 2021. The vote was 97 percent in favor of approving contract terms that cut short a planned second strike this month.

PITTSFIELD — Registered nurses who bargained for 22 months on a new Berkshire Medical Center contract, and walked off the job last October, like their new offer.

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local voted Thursday to ratify a new pay pact that runs through September 2021.

The vote was 97 percent in favor of approving contract terms that cut short a planned second strike this month.

In a statement Thursday night, the MNA called the contract "a huge success for patients, nurses and the community by improving staffing and patient care conditions."

The contract provides assurances from the hospital that workloads for RNs will not grow worse.

Though the MNA retreated from early calls for specific staffing grids, the new pact includes terms that, in certain cases, will keep supervisory "charge" nurses from patient assignments so they can assist other RNs when patient needs intensify.

The agreement also includes wage gains, as well as concessions by the union. The RNs agreed to pay higher premiums for individual health policies as of Jan. 1, bringing their costs up to those already paid by other hospital employees.

The contract also includes a pledge by BMC not to weaken the staffing levels already set in current grids, according to the union.

The union and hospital agreed to make the pact retroactive to Oct. 1, 2016, when the old contract lapsed.

The MNA represents about 800 RNs at the hospital, some of whom work at satellite facilities, including North Adams.

The two sides reached terms early June 15, after three days of intense bargaining, including 16 hours the final day. The breakthrough came three days before a planned one-day walkout by nurses that would have been followed by a four-day lockout that would have cost BMC $3 million to $4 million.

At the time of the agreement, BMC representatives called the agreement "fair and reasonable."

In the end, both sides gave up ground from initial bargaining positions to reach agreement, ending one of the most protracted recent health care labor disputes in Massachusetts.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.