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Labor Board Restores Cambridge Hospital Nurse Benefits

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2010

Cambridge Health Alliance CEO Dennis D. Keefe says the nonprofit health system is reviewing legal options in the wake of a state labor board ruling that struck down CHA's unilateral cuts to health benefits for retired nurses at Cambridge Hospital.

Massachusetts' Commonwealth Employment Relations Board ruled that CHA violated state labor laws and failed to demonstrate sufficient financial need when it declared an impasse in negotiations and cut health benefits for retired nurses by 40%. The unilaterally imposed cuts raised retirees' share of health insurance to 50%, up from 10%.

"We continue to believe our negotiations with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the Cambridge Hospital nurses, were conducted fairly and with proper consideration," Keefe said in a media release following Friday's ruling by CERB.

Keefe says CHA imposed the cuts at a time when some private and government entities were shelving pensions and retiree health plans and abandoning former employees. "We wanted to retain a fair benefit. We feel that providing 50% of a retiree's healthcare costs is a reasonable and affordable offer to our public employees," he said.

MNA called the ruling "a complete victory" for nurses at Cambridge Hospital, saying CERB "flatly rejected the hospital's claim that it was eligible for an exception in this particular case, due to 'externally imposed' and 'economic' circumstances beyond their control."

CERB ordered CHA to post a notice to employees stating that it had violated state labor laws, and that the health system is taking corrective action that includes:

  • Restoring all terms of retirees health insurance benefits for all MNA members that were in effect before CHA made the cuts.
  • Participating in good faith collective bargaining that includes mediation, fact-finding, or arbitration.
  • Making whole employees for economic losses suffered from CHA's cuts.

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