Berkshire Medical Center nurses file complaint with National Labor Relations Board

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PITTSFIELD — Unionized registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center are accusing hospital management of threatening to stop their health care and other benefits if they call a one-day strike.

Through the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the nurses have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board stating Berkshire Health Systems Vice President for Human Resources Arthur Milano wrote a letter dated July 13 that interfered with the stalled negotiations between the hospital and roughly 800 local MNA members, 616 being voting members.

Milano told The Eagle late Monday afternoon, the internal letter was within the hospital's right to communicate directly with the nurses.

"We're confident what we said in the letter was appropriate to the nurses," he said in a phone interview.

However, the MNA complaint had issues with several items in the letter including what the MNA said was a threat to stop health insurance benefits during a one day strike; denying earned time, including pre-approved earned time, while on strike and that the nurses wouldn't qualify for unemployment.

Furthermore, the letter implied the union leadership would miscount votes to ensure a strike is authorized, according to the complaint.

Lastly, the union claims management threatened an illegal lockout of or refused to reinstate nurses for an extra four days after the one-day strike.

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Milano said that's necessary to cover the nurses' shifts with replacements.

"If people walk off the job, we need replacements and we have to pay them for five days," he noted. "We can't be paying two different groups of nurses at the same time."

The vote on a possible strike was expected by the end of July and would come almost two months after the nurses rejected what BMC called a "best and final offer."

On May 31, 82 percent of the nearly 500 nurses who cast ballots turned down the proposal following eight months of contract negotiations of more than 20 bargaining sessions between the nurses union and Berkshire Health Systems, which operates BMC.

The parties are at odds over salaries, the number of patients nurses are required to care for at once, and a number of other points.

Since the rejection, management and union negotiators have meet twice at the bargaining table with another session scheduled for Aug. 1, according to BHS officials.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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