March 15, 2019

Heywood Hospital settles labor allegation over nurse ballot question

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Heywood Hospital in Gardner

Heywood Hospital in Gardner has settled a case with the National Labor Relations Board after nurses who advocated for safe patient limits during the Question 1 ballot campaign in 2018 said they were threatened for wearing campaign buttons.

Two registered nurses, Lisa Sullivan and Bob King, said they were threatened with discipline in September 2018 for wearing the buttons advocating for mandated nurse staffing ratios.

The nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, filed a complaint with the NLRB after the hospital changed its appearance policy without notifying employees or allowing nurses to negotiate the change.

Heywood settled the charge after the NLRB issued a complaint for violating the National Labor Relations Act.

"I was wearing a button on my scrubs to show support for safe patient limits, as I had done many times in the past for other causes that were important to me," Sullivan said in an MNA statement on the case. "The hospital came down on nurses and patients who supported safe patient limits, even as the hospital itself was holding meetings against Question 1 and posting signs all over the building. A manager even moved a patient's 'Yes on 1' sign from the window of their room."

In addition to the alleged intimidation inside the hospital, there was a banner outside of the hospital opposing the ballot question. Supervisors carried 'No on 1' lawn signs in the hospital, King said.

Heywood CEO Winfield Brown even suggested in a staff-wide email nurses should tell patients to vote against the proposal.

"Hospital executives engaged in this kind of behavior and worse all across Massachusetts," King said.

Question 1 was ultimately defeated by 70 percent to 30 percent. Proponents said nurses are overburdened and need help to ensure the safety of patients, while opponents said the measure would be too costly and force hospitals to close some services.

The settlement require the hospital to email a series of statements to employees and post language in several locations in the hospital affirming the rights of its workers.

Heywood agreed to not prevent staff from wearing "MNA political items" or other political buttons at work while permitting them to wear other buttons. Employee policies will not be changed in response to union activity, the hospital said.

The hospital could not immediately be reached for comment.

The MNA accused Marlborough Hospital and Lawrence General of violating labor laws by prohibiting workers from wearing attire that supported the ballot initiative.

According to the Boston Globe, the NRLB moved to dismiss the complaints against those two hospitals despite the acknowledgement they may have violated labor law.

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