Nurses at Tenet-owned St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts have reached a tentative agreement to end the 285-day strike over working conditions. The agreement between the Massachusetts Nursing Association and the hospital was brokered by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, and came after 43 negotiating sessions.
The agreement guarantees the nurses the right to return to their original positions and staffing improvements. The 700 hospital nurses’ will ratify the deal with a vote on Jan. 3, which could end the strike, which was the longest nurse strike in the country in 15 years, and the second-longest nurses strike in the history of Massachusetts. The strike included picketing, rallies, and marches and had attracted attention from local politicians and members of Congress.
“We are so grateful for and humbled by the efforts of Secretary Walsh today, and so pleased to have finally reached an agreement that we believe provides us with what we need to better care for our patients that we will now take to our members for a vote to ratify and thus call an end to our historic strike,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurses at St. Vincent Hospital and co-chair of the St, Vincent Hospital nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association via release. “This agreement, and the improvements it includes was hard-fought, and represents a true victory, not only for the nurses, but more importantly, for our patients and our community, who will have access to better nursing care, which was why our members walked that strike line for the last nine months through four seasons.”
Nurses at the Dorcester, Mass. acute care hospital filed more than 1,000 official reports of unsafe conditions throughout the last several years. In January, nurses began to picket outside the hospital, and in February, the nurses cast an 89 percent vote in favor of the strike. As the strike moved forward, Tenet permanently replaced the nurses. A letter signed by more than 30 political leaders included Massachusetts U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, numerous members of Congress, state senators, Worcester city council members, and the mayor of Worcester expressed displeasure about the move. “There should be no discussion whatsoever to replace striking workers, especially after everything these nurses have gone through the last year,” the letter reads. Lawn signs, prayer vigils, and other symbols of support have joined the nurse’s efforts in the area.
The nurses recognize that they didn’t get everything they wanted but say they are ready to return to work once the agreement is ratified. Specific details of the agreement are not available until all union members are notified, and a vote is held. The nurses agreed to stop picketing between Dec. 20 to Jan. 4 as a show of good faith.
Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare employs more than 100,000 people across a nationwide network that includes United Surgical Partners International and the operation of 60 hospitals and more than 460 other healthcare facilities such as surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, imaging centers, and other care sites and clinics. Tenet says that nurses have always been guaranteed their jobs back. A previous offer included an increase of resource nurses for additional support from 11 units to 20, an increase in staffing in multiple units to respond to patient census numbers, an 8-35 percent increase in wages by 2024, a 3 percent lump-sum bonus based on hours worked, a reduction in out-of-pocket healthcare benefit expenses, and more safety measures. Tenet reached an agreement in 25 other union contracts in the last two years.
In a statement, Tenet praised the individuals that stepped in to fill the roles of the striking nurses and noted that the choice to have nurses return to their old positions was made in the context of increased need during the winter season, which will likely see a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.
“The new contract will provide enhancements for patients and our team, and we are glad to finally end the strike and put our sole focus back on patient care,” said Saint Vincent Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Jackson via statement. “We will be setting a new tone at Saint Vincent Hospital: We are one team with a common purpose. Not striking nurses versus replacement nurses. Not nurses versus management. One team united behind the principles of professionalism, excellence, accountability, and compassion.”