In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
WORCESTER – The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital were informed by the federal mediator that Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare was declining the nurses offer, made at the end of negotiations on Wednesday, to return to the table today to resume negotiations in hopes of reaching an agreement that could end the nurses strike, which on Monday will enter its 10th week.
The decision to cease talks, comes after the parties held their third round of negotiations on Wednesday, and while some movement was made in some areas, there are still significant differences on the issue of staffing that still need to be resolved before a settlement is possible. At the end of the session, after the nurses delivered yet another counterproposal to the hospital, the talks ended, with the nurses informing Tenet that they would be sharing the hospital’s latest proposal with their members on Thursday, and offered up Friday as a day to continue the process.
At a meeting with their members held via zoom on Thursday morning, the negotiating committee went over the hospital’s proposal line by line, and when done, the members voiced loud and unanimous dissatisfaction with the offer, as it once again fails to provide the staffing improvements and other protections nurse need to safely care for patients. Later that afternoon, the mediator informed the nurses leadership that Tenet would not meet on Friday, and will not meet until the nurses agree to compromise on their call for safer staffing.
“We were very disheartened are very disappointed that Tenet is refusing to continue to negotiate to address our concerns so that we can end this strike and return to the bedside where we can provide our patients with the care and dignity expect and deserve,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit. “We are eager to get back to the table to continue this process, but we have been clear throughout this process that we need an agreement with accountability by management to provide safe care and enforceable staffing language in our contract that’s going to protect all our patients every day, every shift in that hospital. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what was put across the table on Wednesday.”
As the nurses and Tenet resumed talks on Wednesday, leading public officials once again lent their voice to the nurses’ cause as Senators Warren and Markey, and Congressman McGovern and Congresswoman Trahan sent a letter to Tenet CEO Ron Rittenmeyer and members of the Tenet Board urging Tenet to “continue meaningful negotiations and remain at the bargaining table until the Hospital and the MNA reach a deal.”
Lawmakers Decry Tenet’s Efforts to Deprive Nurses of Needed Health Care Benefit
Yesterday, on National Nurses Day, the same officials, along with a number of other members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation sent a second letter to Tenet leaders in Dallas, calling on them to stop an ongoing effort to deprive striking nurses of essential COBRA health insurance benefits and subsidies granted to all striking workers under the recently passed American Recovery Plan.
Under the new law all those unemployed, including those involved in a lawful strike, are eligible for fully subsidized health care benefits, which is a key for the St. Vincent nurses, as Tenet chose to cut their health care coverage once the strike began. While the nurses should now have access to fully subsidized health insurance under the new federal law, Tenet has engaged in a cynical effort to interpret the language of the law to purposely delay nurses’ access to the plan, and thereby, depriving nurses with access to needed health care. Nurses seeking health care, including nurses with seriously ill children and family members needing care have been told they need to pay the full bill for any care provided upfront, which would be difficult under the best of circumstance, but even harder when you are on strike.
“The professional nurses at St. Vincent’s and their families are not only an integral part of this community but they have felt the pandemic’s heaviest impact each and every day, working to save patients and protect themselves. They deserve swift action to ensure they are adequately provided for as the law intended. We respectfully urge Tenet to move expeditiously to provide the professional nurses the COBRA benefits they are entitled to under the ARP,” concludes the lawmaker’s letter.
”It is one thing to take a hard stance at the negotiating table, but it is truly disgraceful for this corporation to use nurses health, and their access to needed medical care as a weapon in their strategy to break the nurses’ strike,” said Julie Pinkham, RN, MNA Executive Director, who has been working with the nurses and Tenet’s COBRA benefits provider to try and secure care for nurses struggling to access the benefit. “It is even more obscene when the institution employing the strategy is a provider of health care.”
Ironically, these events were occurring on National Nurses Day, the same day Tenet chose to hold its annual shareholders meeting, where they trumpeted the soaring stock price and the more than 400 million in profits they have generated from the work and sacrifice of nurses and other essential caregivers, including 800 nurses in Worcester, still walking the sidewalk outside one of its most profitable hospitals. As the strike enters week 10, Tenet is projected to have spent over $55 million to prolong this strike, all to avoid being held accountable for providing safer staffing for safer patient care.
The strike began on March 8, after Tenet had refused to negotiate with the nurses over improvements the nurses are seeking to improve unsafe patient care conditions in the hospital. The decision followed earnest and painstaking efforts over the last two years by the nurses to convince Tenet to improve the patient care conditions at the facility, poor conditions that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The nurses’ strike has galvanized support from a variety of public officials, labor, faith-based organizations, and community advocates, including the entire Worcester City Council, the Worcester state legislative delegation, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Edward Markey Congressman Jim McGovern, Congresswoman Lori Trahan, and Attorney General Maura Healy, who have all visited the nurses strike line. Prior to the strike Senators Warren, Markey and Congressman McGovern sent another letter to Tenet’s CEO in Dallas urging Tenet to negotiate with the nurses to address the nurses’ concerns over needed staffing improvements to ensure safe care. On April 28, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council delivered a letter to Tenet CEO Carolyn Jackson announcing that the council will not be sending its 75,000 members to the hospital for care until the strike is resolved.
In the last year alone, nurses have filed more than 600 official “unsafe staffing” reports (more than 110 such reports have been filed since January 1, 2021) in which nurses informed management in real time that patient care conditions jeopardized the safety of their patients. The nurses also report their patients in Worcester have experienced an increase in patient falls, an increase in patients suffering from preventable bed sores, potentially dangerous delays in patients receiving needed medications and other treatments – all due to lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments, and cuts to valuable support staff.