MA Nurses in Disagreement over Pension Plan

August 16, 2011 ( - Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who thought they had negotiated a more favorable retirement plan last October at four Caritas Christi Health Care hospitals, now find themselves at loggerheads with the hospitals’ new owner.

The Boston Globe reports that Boston’s Steward Health Care System LLC chief executive, Ralph de la Torre, enlisted the aid of unions last year as he sought regulatory backing for Steward’s corporate parent, Cerberus Capital Management, to buy the financially struggling Caritas Christi chain of Catholic community hospitals.   

Just before that deal was approved, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association ratified a new five-year contract at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Carney Hospital in Dorchester, and two other Caritas hospitals that gave nearly 1,700 registered nurses pay raises and a defined benefit pension plan that replaced a 403(b) defined contribution plan.  

However, the news report said, now union leaders are charging that the pension plan Steward presented to them this year differed from what the parties agreed to – a charge Steward denies. Among several areas of dispute, the union faults Steward for seeking veto power over non-Steward hospitals that eventually might join the multiple-employer plan. The union also wants Steward to make pension contributions based on gross pay, including overtime, rather than base pay.  

According to the Globe, Steward spokesman Chris Murphy said that Steward, while agreeing to the new pension plan, insisted that it be ’’revenue neutral,’’ meaning that it cost no more than what Caritas contributed to the previous retirement plan. He also said retaining veto power over other hospitals joining the new plan is prudent because Steward would be liable for the expense.