For one BMC nurse, picket line is a family affair

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PITTSFIELD — The sun is blazing, the traffic is fast, the horns are long and frequent.

But these are happy horns for Berkshire Medical Center nurses on strike today — it's a show of support for them and their union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

BMC nurse Denice Yon is carefully crossing North Street with coffee an a plate of doughnuts for her mother, Bernie Roy, and her aunt, Elaine Soldato.

The two women, Pittsfield natives, are sitting perched on a grassy hill across the street, with signs of support for the striking nurses.

"It's a calling to be a nurse," said Soldato, 91, who worked as a draftswoman for the General Electric Co., drawing the parts that went into a transformer, she said.

Roy, 84, worked at the former Hillcrest Hospital and has been a nurse for more than 50 years. She now works in home health care. She said she also was out here to show support for her daughter and two grandchildren who are nurses.

Yon's been a nurse for almost 40 years, with 16 years at BMC.

Roy said modern nursing is harder than when she started back in the 1950s.

"People get older and sicker due to medical technology," she said. Just then a trucker drove by slowly, pounding his horn.

"They live longer," Roy added.

Yon nods. And she said one way the nurses experience some of these changes is in the reason this strike was called — what the union says is insufficient staffing.

"There's no backup and we're at bare bones," she said. "If one person calls in sick for some reason, it's helter-skelter."

BMC officials say the hospital meets or exceeds industry standards for staffing ratios. But talk to union officials and nurses, and they say staffing numbers aren't safe for patients.

She said she and her colleagues aren't happy with these conditions, or with the strike.

"The nurses cried when they left the hospital," she said. "We had to clean out our lockers, return our keys. We felt terrible about leaving our patients. And we're losing a week's pay."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871 or @BE_hbellow.


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