Talks set to resume between BMC, nurses union
PITTSFIELD — If all had gone smoothly when talks began, Berkshire Medical Center and its registered nurses might be halfway through a new three-year contract.
Instead, the hospital and RNs are still bargaining — but with a breakthrough possible in days ahead.
Three weeks after nurses paused talks, the two sides could soon resume work on a contract, 19 months after the last one lapsed.
Joe Markman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the union was expected last week to complete research into health insurance data. That actuarial work is related to a hospital request that nurses using individual health plans pick up a greater share of costs.
Markman said the union planned this week to brief members of the BMC bargaining committee on findings by outside experts, then schedule new bargaining dates with the hospital.
While the health insurance issue remains, the two sides appeared in February to resolve one of the key sticking points: staffing.
Just days before a planned Feb. 27 strike and subsequent four-day lockout, the hospital agreed not to "diminish" current staffing grids related to registered nurses.
Markman said at the time that nurses withdrew their strike plan "to make space for negotiations to progress."
But talks then went on hiatus for almost a month, as research continued into the health data.
"We need to make use of the analysis so that we can bargain knowledgeably about health insurance terms," Dana Simon, the union's director of strategic campaigns, wrote March 5 to a hospital attorney.
The pause led to the cancellation of bargaining sessions March 6 and 7.
In a March 1 letter to employees about the status of the contract talks, the hospital said it wants the cost of the individual health insurance plan offered to RNs to match what other BMC employees pay.
The change adds about $20 a week in costs for the plan, according to Brenda Cadorette, the hospital's chief nursing officer.
Cadorette said in her March 1 letter that she believed the next talks could result in an agreement.
"We have made significant progress over the last two sessions and look forward to bringing these negotiations to a mutually satisfactory conclusion," she wrote.
The union represents roughly 800 RNs at the Pittsfield hospital and at satellite programs. Negotiations began in September 2016.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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