The unrelenting pressure to cut costs is squeezing both health care providers and their workers, and the tensions are playing out this week at two Massachusetts hospitals.
After months of contract negotiations failed to result in a deal, nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield walked off the job Monday.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association has about 200 members at the community hospital. The union staged a one-day strike, but hospital officials locked out the nurses Sunday night and plan to keep them out until Wednesday night while using temporary replacement workers.
Meanwhile, officials from the union and Tufts Medical Center held another round of fruitless negotiations Monday as their contract dispute grew more bitter. The union, which represents about 1,200 Tufts nurses, continued to threaten a strike at Tufts, but it had not set a date. Tufts’ nurses and hospital officials disagree on wages, benefits, and staffing levels.
In Western Massachusetts, the nurses union and Baystate Health have clashed on staffing, health benefits, and other issues.
Hospitals are under increasing pressure to control costs, and labor — including nurses — represent their greatest cost. The conflict played out last year at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, one of the state’s largest medical centers, where a strike was narrowly avoided when the nurses union and the Brigham reached a late compromise.
Baystate officials kept their Greenfield hospital open during Monday’s strike. They said surgeries were held as scheduled but that some other patient appointments — they didn’t say how many — were rescheduled.
Baystate has contracted with a staffing agency to hire 60 temporary nurses for a minimum of three days. About 47 patients were at the 89-bed hospital Monday.
“Things have been running smoothly,” said Cindy Russo, president of Baystate Franklin. “These are licensed, experienced nurses.”
The union slammed the hospital for locking union nurses out for three days.
“They’ve hired these mercenary nurses from across the country who know nothing about our patients,” said Donna Stern, a nurse and cochairwoman of the bargaining unit at Baystate Franklin.
Nurses picketed outside the hospital Monday. At a midday rally, hundreds of people gathered in support, Stern said.
The union held a one-day strike at the hospital in October 2012. At that time, union nurses were allowed to return to work after the one-day walkout, Stern added.
At Tufts Medical, in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, union nurses rejected a contract offer from the hospital earlier this month. Both sides continued discussions Monday with a federal mediator.
But talks ended after a few hours when union officials decided the hospital’s revised offer still wasn’t good enough.
“It was basically ‘sacrifice your wages for better staffing.’ That is when things ended,” said Jennifer Johnson, a union spokeswoman.
Brooke Hynes, a spokeswoman for Tufts Medical, said the hospital has committed to spending $30 million on the nurses’ contract, and it does not have wiggle room.
“We’ve been very clear for weeks now that we have $30 million that we have stretched to invest,” she said. “That’s a significant investment.”
It’s unclear when the two sides will return to the bargaining table. Their dispute grew more tense in recent days after a memo from a union official last week said the union wants to choose a strike date that most harms the hospital.
Union officials must give at least 10 days’ notice before going on strike.
“On the cusp of the holiday, we need to determine the best dates that will be most harmful to the hospital (from an economic standpoint) otherwise the strike will be ineffective,” the union e-mail said. The memo was reported earlier by the Boston Herald.
Tufts’ chief executive, Dr. Michael Wagner, responded in his own e-mail to employees.
“We may disagree at the table, but we all want this organization to succeed,” Wagner said. “If the MNA is sincere in trying to financially cripple Tufts Medical Center, then that harms all of us, including the nurses the union represents.”