Strike hearing today: BMC seeking injunction to halt nurse work stoppage

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PITTSFIELD — The path to a possible nursing strike in Pittsfield detours through a Springfield courtroom Friday.

Whether that stop will halt the job action remains to be seen.

Attorneys for Berkshire Medical Center and the Massachusetts Nurses Association will appear at a hastily called 11 a.m. hearing in U.S. District Court. The hospital will argue that a planned strike Tuesday is illegal, given an existing labor agreement.

The union is expected to counter that the nearly 800-member nurses union is within its rights.

On Wednesday, the hospital filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the strike from taking place. Though members of the union called for a one-day action, the hospital plans to bring in replacement nurses for five days, saying that is the minimum period for such an arrangement.

On Thursday, Judge Mark G. Mastroianni of the court's Springfield division set Friday's hearing.

Joe Markman, a spokesman for the union, said attorneys were preparing Thursday to contest the hospital's claims at the hearing.

"The hospital's allegation is without merit," Markman said. "In general, by this action, Berkshire Medical Center executives are treating the nurses as if they have no legal right to withhold their labor even for a day."

The union will be represented by the firm McDonald Lamond Canzoneri from Southborough, which specializes in labor issues.

Markman said that the hospital's legal action seeks to "deprive nurses of their protected voice. The nurses obviously have the right to protest to advocate for themselves and their patients."

In its motion for a preliminary injunction, the hospital asks that the union "rescind the [strike] Notice, cancel the strike, and encourage and request that all bargaining unit RNs refrain from any such job action ...."

The hospital, which will be represented by David M. Mandel of Ropes & Gray LLP, claims that while the union listed "unfair labor practices" as the reason for the strike in its Sept. 22 notice, it must address those issues in the grievance and arbitration process, rather than on the picket line.

In a filing Wednesday with the federal court, Mandel argued that the nurses and hospital were bound by their last contract to resolve issues involving complaints of unfair labor practices without striking.

The contract has a no-strike clause. The union notified the hospital in early August that it would terminate the contract as of September.

Three unfair labor practices complaints that the union filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board in Boston date to the period when the contract remained in effect, according to John F. Rogers, a Berkshire Health Systems vice president and general counsel.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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