Haverhill City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien.
Most Haverhill city councilors Tuesday gave their formal support for union nurses at Holy Family Hospital, Haverhill, who seek a new labor contract with hospital parent Steward Health Care.
A resolution, presented by Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, was passed by a vote of 8 to 0.
“Nurses deserve the opportunity to serve patients in a safe and secure environment. Nurses, in a properly staffed hospital, are more satisfied with their work environment. Increased satisfaction can lead to better care for patients and reduce turnover,” Daly O’Brien read from the resolution.
Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua abstained “to avoid any conflict of interest” in the hospital’s association with the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, for which he serves as president and CEO. The motion to approve the resolution was made by Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan and seconded by Vice President Melinda E. Barrett.
Daly O’Brien, a former nurse at the hospital, dating back to the former city-owned Hale Hospital, placed the discussion item on Tuesday’s agenda “requesting to allow Merrimack Valley Nurses Association and Massachusetts Nurses Association to give an update on their concerns regarding quality care” at the local hospital.”
“And as I have been quoted in the past, ‘We are the engineers of health care.’ We are educated as such. We have responsibility and accountability that includes human life at every age and we are not respected for that position we have in our society,” Daly O’Brien added.
Daly O’Brien is also among area community leaders who signed a letter, presented last Thursday to hospital President Joseph Roach, appealing for “fair treatment of the nurses in protracted negotiations for a new union contract.”
Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) local co-chairs Julia O’Brien, 66 Webster St., and Jane Emery, 3 Pine Ridge Road, also spoke to update the status of ongoing contract negotiations. A session earlier Tuesday, O’Brien said, consisted of “a couple of questions” from Steward representatives to a counter-proposal from the nurses. The next session is scheduled Sept. 15. O’Brien told councilors the union began to receive this week, in response to unfair labor practice complaints, information requested by the union six months ago for the bargaining process.
“We have faced an uphill battle from the start because the culture of the hospital is not one that values nurses. My colleagues and I experience daily disrespect on the job and have been told that we are replaceable,” O’Brien said.
Emery said the hospital administration has also been “unwilling” to offer “any type of a real retirement plan.”
“They did offer a little carrot of a pension plan that would take effect on, literally, the last 24 hours, for the contract that we are now working on. That was their idea of what we deserved,” Emery said. “We are the only hospital represented by the (MNA) that does not receive either a match or a pension. The only nurses at our hospital that have a real retirement plan are the few nurses who remain (from) when the city actually owned the hospital.”
The nurses continue to work under the previous contract since its extended May 31 expiration, according to Massachusetts Nurses Association Associate Public Communications Director Joseph Markman.
Councilor William J. Macek participated in the meeting by remote teleconference.