1,200 Tufts nurses locked out of facility after holding 1-day strike

BOSTON — Approximately 1,200 nurses at Tufts Medical Center walked off the job Wednesday in the largest nurses’ strike in Massachusetts history, and while the union says it only intended for the strike to last 24 hours, the facility has locked them out until at least Monday.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association represents 1,200 RNs at Tufts and says the strike, which is the first in the state in more than 30 years, was needed to draw attention to what they call the lack of respect for nurses and patient safety at Tufts.

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“We came to the table (Tuesday) hoping to reach an agreement, but Tufts management is determined to force a strike and a subsequent lock out of our nurses,” said Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, an OR nurse and bargaining unit co-chair. “This decision really shows administration’s lack of respect for its nurses and for the safety our patients.”

The strike was only supposed to last 24 hours, but hospital officials announced that striking nurses would be locked out of the facility until at least Monday.

Tufts is now using more than 300 nurses brought in from across the country to make sure operations continue to run smoothly.

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After the strike began, Tufts Medical Center CEO Dr. Michael Wagner says the facility would remain open and will operate at normal capacity for the entire five-day work stoppage.

"It is extremely unfortunate that the union has continued to hold out for more money and an ill-conceived pension plan, and has made good on its threat to harm our great Medical Center. But make no mistake, we will continue to provide exceptional patient care," Wagner said in a statement.

But nurses who walked off their jobs told Boston 25 News that it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

“We get gunshots, we get people falling from trees, getting hit by cars. We have to act in a moment’s notice. We don't have the staff,” OR nurse Eileen Agranat said.

The nurses are seeking more staffing so they can spend more time with patients, along with an increase in their salaries and enhancement of their pensions.

The union says Tufts nurses have the lowest pay and the worst pension in the city.

“We have staffing issues inside that building,” registered nurse Mary Havlicek Cormacchia said. “They leave holes on schedules. They send out blast text messages on a daily basis to try and fill holes, or nurses have to stay over time. It’s no longer acceptable.”

As the strike ended at 7 a.m., nurses tried to walk back into the hospital to start shifts and continue working but were not allowed to do so.

They replaced signs around their necks demanding to be let back in to work.

The hospital issued a scathing statement and says it's all a stunt.

“Part of the (Massachusetts Nurses Association) playbook is staging a dramatic scene the morning after a strike. This is a stunt orchestrated for the media," Rhonda Mann, Spokesperson Tufts Medical Center said. in a statement. "The union was aware -- well before it issued a strike notice -- that a strike would force us to bring in expert nurses for a contractually-required five day period. We communicated this to our nurses through emails, meetings and letters sent to their homes. Nurses who came to work today may continue to work during the five day period. Those who chose not to work today know they can return Monday. If the MNA was so concerned about our nurses returning to the bedside, it should never have taken them out on strike and away from their patients."

A federal mediator has been brought in to help with negotiations.