By Michael Howell
Fifty Registered Nurses (RNs) have planned an informational picket at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital today, Wednesday, August 24. The RNs, all members of the Montana Nurses Association (MNA), voted unanimously to conduct an informational picket to inform the community about the hospital’s continued refusal to include a third party dispute resolution clause in the hospital’s collective bargaining agreement. Without such a clause, they claim, nurses can be disciplined or retaliated against for speaking in favor of greater patient care and safety without any impartial review.
According to information provided in a press release by the MNA, third party dispute resolution utilizes a neutral mediator or arbitrator in settling differences that have not reached settlement through any other stage of dispute resolution between labor and management. In the absence of this clause, which they say lies at the heart of a fair and honest labor/management relationship, the final decision-making power on all grievances is held exclusively by the Corporate Executive Officer, John Bartos.
“RNs provide direct care to the community, often in their most vulnerable times,” said Amy Hauschild, Labor Specialist for the Montana Nurses Association. “These dedicated professionals are on the front lines to see and experience what is successful, and what is detrimental, to patient care. One of the most basic rights of all workers is to have a voice on the job, allowing them to be a part of improving the workplace and the services that are being provided. At Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, the RNs are being denied that voice, free from reprisal.”
“The RNs are, at times, so understaffed that they are routinely forced to prioritize tasks in a very demanding work environment, often working extended hours with no down time,” explained Hauschild, “The hospital’s attention is on cost-cutting. Unfortunately, cutting costs often translates into reducing patient care and potentially jeopardizing patient safety.”
Hauschild emphasized that the members of the MNA at the hospital voted unanimously to hold this informational picket because they feel so strongly about the issue. Hauschild noted that this was not a strike or a work stoppage, it was just an informational picket. She said all nurses scheduled to work that day will be on the job.
“They just want to be heard,” said Hauschild. “They are not being heard at the bargaining table. They are not being heard at the hospital. They want the community to hear.” Hauschild said that the hospital administration and attorneys are not returning telephone calls. She said they were just refusing to communicate over the issue.
Telephone calls to the hospital from the Bitterroot Star on Monday were not returned. But the hospital did publish an open letter to the citizens of Ravalli County in today’s paper, explaining in detail its stand on the collective bargaining agreement with the RNs. That letter outlines the hospital’s disagreement with the MNA’s efforts to turn the hospital into a “union shop”. It also outlines in detail the current avenues provided for RNs to report concerns regarding patient care and patient and staff safety. They include use of a Professional Conference Committee and use of the Grievance Policy. The letter also states that the union wants binding arbitration.
“MDMH believes binding arbitration is extremely expensive, often takes months for a decision to be made, and there is no review of defective decisions,” states the letter from the hospital. “MDMH proposes that the union use the National Labor Relations Board for final review. The process is expedient free of charge to both parties and decisions are subject to appeal.”
Betsy Saylor, an RN at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and a member of the committee currently negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the hospital, said that if there was a main issue involved in the upcoming informational picket it was “the grievance procedure itself.”
“We want the public to know that the nurses are advocating for their patients,” said Saylor.
Saylor said that under the current grievance process, “you go through a few steps and then the final word comes from (CEO John) Bartos.” She said that if a nurse had a complaint such as poor staffing, for instance, it would be hard to take it through the process knowing that the same man who set the staffing quotas was going to judge your complaint. And then there is the fear of reprisal of some sort for even having made a complaint.
“We need third party representation,” said Saylor.
According to Saylor, the next negotiation meeting over the collective bargaining agreement is scheduled for the first week in September.
Picketing will be held in front of the Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton on Wednesday, August 24 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and again from 4 to 6 p.m.