Labor Board Restores Cambridge Hospital Nurse Benefits

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , August 31, 2010

"We are thrilled and vindicated by the board's ruling," says Betty Kaloustian, a nurse at Cambridge Hospital and chair of the nurses' local bargaining unit. "The board got it right. Our employer had an obligation to negotiate with us and they chose not to. Unfortunately, the hospital's actions have had a devastating impact on those nurses who they were trying to force to retire, not to mention the impact on all the other nurses who were seeing their benefit slashed. We are appalled at the lack of respect shown to those nurses who have given their heart and soul to this institution."

MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham says state labor laws "couldn't be more clear on this point, and we are amazed that this public employer tried to claim otherwise."

"While this case is settled, we can only hope those who made these unlawful decisions are held accountable for the financial cost involved in creating this crisis, as well as for the impact these actions will have on the nurses' trust in the CHA administration going forward," Pinkham says.

Keefe believes CHA's record deficit in 2009 and other pressures on the public safety net hospital "were conclusive and compelling evidence of the serious economic threat under which we are operating."

In the last two years, he said, CHA has closed six health centers, all inpatient services at Somerville Hospital, inpatient pediatric services, 35 adult psychiatric beds, and ceased offering inpatient addictions services. "In doing so, we have had to reduce our work force by 450 full-time employees. That just gets us to where we are today: still confronting the forces of a deteriorating economy and a healthcare environment that is experiencing declining volumes, shrinking reimbursement, and continuing pressures from state and federal health care reform," Keefe said. "If this does not meet the definition of financial exigency, I'm not sure what would."

The CERB ruling doesn't change the financial facts for CHA, Keefe says.

"Unlike municipalities, we don't have taxing authority and cannot raise revenues to cover massively rising costs," he adds. "While we remain ready and eager to return to the bargaining table and develop a mutually agreeable labor contract, we need to be clear that the MNA's rejection of CHA's reasoned proposal threatens CHA's future."

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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