With trustees reportedly working toward a decision on selling non-profit Northeast Health System to a larger organization — with two for-profit and two nonprofits named in the competition — union nurses have called for a day of informational picketing next week at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals to spur contract talks.
Although salary and benefits are on the table, the key sticking point, the nurses say, is Northeast management's refusal to write "successor language" into the contract. That type of language would ensure that the terms of any settlement reached before any merger or sale would be recognized by the future owner of the system, according to a press release by the bargaining unit, which is a part of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The picketing is scheduled for Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
About 700 nurses are in the bargaining unit, with roughly 100 at Addison Gilbert.
The nurses contend that Northeast has resisted approving the successor language in the unresolved draft of a new contract to avoid complicating the sale which CEO Ken Hanover has said could be determined by the end of the month.
"They say they want to make it easier to sell the hospital by not including this key piece of language," said Jeanine Burns, a registered nurse at AGH and the secretary of the bargaining unit.
Nurses are not unionized at Beth Israel Deaconess and Lahey Clinic, the two nonprofits vying to acquire Northeast and secure a base broad in Essex County where Northeast has steadily grown.
Both both for-profit companies in the mix of would-be buyers, on the other hand, have acquired hospitals in Massachusetts with union nurses.
Steward Health Care, which was formed by Ceberus Capital Management to acquire the six Caritas Hospitals from the Archdiocese of Boston, has embraced unions. And so has Vanguard Health Care, which has acquired MetroWest Medical Center and St. Vincent's Hospital in Worcester.
On Thursday, Northeast Hospital Corp. Executive Vice President Pauline Pike released a statement to the Times, saying the union would not be endangered in any sale.
"Northeast Hospital Corporation has consistently assured our nursing staff that their union will remain intact and be recognized in the event of any merger or acquisition," said Pike. "We value and respect our nurses and look forward to reaching an agreement on a constructive contract that is agreeable to both sides. We believe such an agreement is within reach.
"I want to assure our patients and staff that our excellent care at Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital will not be affected by these ongoing negotiations," Pike added.
But Burns said the statement only guaranteed with the union already has as a matter of law — superseding ownership recognition — and did not speak the question about "successor language," adding that the informational picketing would go on as planned.
The nurses said in the release that while the hospital system was "consistently turning a profit," the bargaining position of the system "offered the nurses a zero percent cost-of-living pay increase."
The next bargaining session is set for June 21.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.