HAVERHILL — Registered nurses at Steward Holy Family at Merrimack Valley Hospital have filed an unfair labor charge against the facility with the National Labor Review Board for the second time this year.

The 145 nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are claiming the hospital is refusing to bargain a new contract and that the officials sent by the company to contract negotiations have been given no authority to work out a new agreement.

Hospital officials could not be reached for comment at the time of this report.

The action involves only the nurses at Merrimack Valley Hospital, and does not include the nursing staff at Steward's Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.

The union's last two-year contract with the hospital expired March 31, but was extended until May 31.

According to a statement issued by the union, the nurses' group is claiming it sought to begin talks for a new contract last December, but that the hospital opted not to begin negotiating until March 29.

Since then, nine negotiating sessions have been held, and the MNA maintains it has made numerous requests for Steward to present an economic proposal, or any substantive proposal to move the process along.

The union has said the hospital has refused to make virtually any proposals or to respond to the MNA’s proposals, which led to the most recent charge with the National Labor Review Board.

The union argues Holy Family posted profits of more than $14 million at its Haverhill and Methuen facilities in the first nine months of last year, with a profit margin of eight percent — double the state average for the state’s acute-care hospitals based on the latest official reports filed with the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis.

Jane Emery, RN, a nurse in the hospital’s Medical/Surgical Telemetry unit and co-chairwoman of the MNA local bargaining unit for the hospital, said in a statement that the union went without raises for three years prior to the last contract and that the hospital's nurses have been there "through thick and thin."

“When the hospital was losing money, we took zero-percent wage increases in 2012, 2013 and 2014," she said in the statement. "We agreed to this because we care for the people of this community. But now that the company is making millions, they treat nurses like they have no use for us, and now nurses are resigning faster than we can hire.”

The union is also accusing the hospital of reneging on a contractual agreement made in 2014 to provide Merrimack Valley Hospital nurses access to a defined pension benefit plan. 

Of the 52 acute-care facilities represented by the MNA, Merrimack Valley Hospital is the only hospital that does not have an employer-financed retirement plan, according to the union.

“The nurses at this hospital deserve and need a pension to be able to retire with income security,” Emery said in the statement. “Steward made a promise to our nurses that they would negotiate this benefit in this contract. Now they refuse to even discuss it. It’s a shameful way to treat people.” 

The next negotiating session between the hospital and the union is scheduled for Friday, June 10.

Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis and on Tout @PFrancis

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