VNA

Employees of the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association, which is owned by Berkshire Health Systems, have asked their employer to voluntarily recognize their union. They would join the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which already represents hundreds of nurses employed at Berkshire Medical Center.

UPDATE: On Thursday, VNA union organizers filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking an election to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Read more here.

Nurses and other health care professionals who work for the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association have taken the first step toward forming a union.

The Berkshire VNA is a home health care agency, owned by Berkshire Health Systems, that sends nurses, physical therapists and other medical professionals to care for patients across the county in their homes.

A “huge majority” of those staff members signed cards intending to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association, according to the MNA — and they sent a letter Wednesday asking their employer to voluntarily recognize the union.

Why unionize? Nurses involved in organizing say it’s about getting a voice in how the VNA runs.

“Our employer tries to meet with us, and they say they’re going to incorporate our thoughts and feelings, but categorically that has not happened at all,” said Sarah Roberts, a registered nurse and member of the organizing committee.

Organizers say that staff are overburdened and asked to care for patients, many of whom are quite ill, without enough time allotted for each.

They say they are spending a significant amount of time on calls with patients, conducting mandatory follow-ups and driving long distances between patient homes — work that does not always get properly compensated.

BMC exterior (copy)

Staff members of the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association, which is owned by Berkshire Health Systems, have asked their employer to voluntarily recognize their union. 

“We want clear, explicit standards that we’re following,” said Emma Mattison, a registered nurse and member of the organizing committee. “And we need more recognition of the effort and time that the staff, nurses, physical therapists and everybody doesn’t always clock in for.”

Mattison says staff often end up having to bring work home in order to provide continuous care to all the patients the VNA serves. She says health care workers have tried for several years to bring up their issues, to little avail.

“There’s a lot of frustration because sometimes we’ll have concerns about the technology, or communication, or how much is expected of us during a day, and [management] doesn’t always factor in time for all the tasks and items they expect us to do,” she said.

BHS has 24 hours, until the early afternoon Thursday, to decide whether to voluntarily recognize the VNA’s union. At that point, nurses and other health care professionals will file for a formal election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Roberts hopes BHS sees the letter as an “olive branch” and voluntarily recognizes the union. She says some of the organizational issues that organizers are raising have the potential to impact the patients they are trying to help. “I’m really hoping that the organization can look at it as, we’re out here for our patients, to prevent any potential issues from coming forth.”

Berkshire Health Systems did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 413-447-7311, ext. 239.