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June 15, 2011

Nurses press for sale protection

With a merger or sale of Northeast Health Systems to one of four larger organizations looming at the end of the month, nurses from Addison Gilbert Hospital took their case to the street Wednesday to demand assurances that "successor language" protecting their jobs be included in any new contract.

The nurses, unionized through the Massachusetts Nurses Association, protested from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. outside Addison Gilbert, waving signs decrying alleged "union busting," and calling for any sale to maintain Addison Gilbert's level of patient care.

The protest garnered car-horn support from a number of passing residents, city employees, and school bus drivers.

Most of the hospital's 100 nurses in all stood at different times in the streetside protest at the hospital entrance from Washington Street, said Jeanine Burns, an Emergency Room RN and bargaining unit secretary, with at least 30 in the line at all times.

Jim Preston, an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Addison Gilbert Hospital, noted that much of the nursing staff lives in the city and knows their patients. He said he recognized most of the people who drove by the protest, honking their car-horns in support.

"We've taken care of all of these people," said Burns.

Burns said the protest centers on concern that, among other things, language in the current contract allows nurses to speak on behalf of their patients; with no guarantee that a new company will pick up the contract, she said, nurses may lose their voices in advocating for patients.

In a statement to the Times last week, Pauline Pike, the vice president of Northeast Hospital Corporation, said the union won't be endangered in any sale. She said that the nursing staff's union would remain intact and be recognized in any merger or acquisition.

Preston, however, said he's concerned that the Northeast management may not have a full view of what the hospital means to the community. He said the hospital should still be a humanitarian business, and said he believes management's focus rests firmly on the financial bottom line.

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