After endless negotiations in which the owners of their hospital seem interested only in giving lip service to wanting a fair deal, Unionized Salem Medical Center Registered Nurses today held information picket to protest lack of progress in bargaining.
The nurses, who are members of HPAE Local 5142, have been negotiating a contract with Community Healthcare Associates, LLC, and its owner Bill Colgan, since December 2019.
“Times have been hard for everyone, including for many of us nurses who have had to take risks and make sacrifices to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” HPAE Local 5142 President Karen Masusock, BSN, RN, said. “All these months of putting up with the disrespect of this ownership while trying to get a fair contract takes its own toll. That’s why our members are out here today. We want to show them, even if they don’t care, that the community is with us.”
HPAE President Debbie White, RN, said CHA needs to invest in their nursing staff at the same time they are making capital improvements, especially with all the millions of dollars that they have already received from the Salem Health & Wellness Foundation. The foundation committed $29 million to help CHA purchase the hospital in February 2019.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for our nurses and other healthcare workers and we must pay attention to them,” White said. “We need to focus on their recovery from seeing so much suffering in such a short period of time. This employer needs to invest in nurses, not just buildings.”
Masusock said members in her local are committed to providing the same level of care for patients, no matter what challenges they may face. She emphasized the need to establish in their contract safe patient limits to improve patients’ health outcomes and financial incentives that help to reward frontline caregivers who are providing excellent care in the pandemic outbreak despite the disrespect from owners.
Negotiations have stalled after several months of bargaining between CHA, LLC, and HPAE Local 5142, the union representing nearly 140 nurses. CHA sparked hope initially when Colgan and his partners were taking over the hospital because they agreed to a contract before taking over as owners, the terms of which they violated soon after taking over.
HPAE is now waiting on a decision from the National Labor Relations Board on a charge they filed against the owner for implementing changes to the nurses paid time off without bargaining with the union over those changes and for refusing to recognize the nurses contract.
“Since the takeover,” Masusock said, “the owners have been bargaining in bad faith, disrespected the nursing staff, and taken away benefits that nurses, the healthcare heroes of Salem County, have earned.”
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Michael O. Allen