St. Vincent nurses close 10th week of strike as hospital moves to hire permanent replacements

WORCESTER, Mass. — The nearly 800 nurses at St. Vincent’s Hospital walked off the job 69 days ago, and now the hospital’s owner is making moves to permanently replace them.

Congressman James McGovern and Congresswoman Lori Trahan will attend the “Rally Against Replacement” on Saturday in an effort “to register strong community opposition to the recent announcement by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare that they were refusing to continue negotiations… and instead were posting positions to permanently replace the nurses,” the Massachusetts Nurses Association said in a press release.

From the beginning, St. Vincent nurses said the strike was all about unsafe staffing levels.

According to the MNA, St. Vincent nurses have filed more than 600 official unsafe staffing reports in the past year alerting management to issues they say are due to unsafe staffing levels.

The nurses reported their patients have experienced increases in falls, preventable bed sores and potentially dangerous delays in receiving medications and other treatments, all due to what they say is a lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments and cuts to valuable support staff.

“Saint Vincent Hospital provides exceptional care to our patients. That has always been the case and it has been the case through the strike. After the MNA’s rejection of all of our proposals to end the strike, we made the decision to hire permanent replacement nurses to ensure continuity of care and availability of services for convenient patient access.

The union bargaining committee has said the strike is about staffing and repeatedly said it wanted the same levels as UMass Memorial Medical Center, but it rejected us when we offered the exact same staffing language as UMass. Prior to that, the union bargaining committee also rejected a proposal that would have added a clear mutual accountability provision for the maintenance of safe staffing going forward that utilized their own proposed language. They refused to put either or both of those proposals to a vote among all the nurses. By adding other demands unrelated to staffing, such as wanting a new pension plan, the union bargaining committee is simply moving the goal posts and demonstrating they will sacrifice their nurse members ability to return to work without a transparent vote of their membership.

It appears the MNA has no interest in signing any agreement to end this strike. By rejecting all of our offers without offering a meaningful counterproposal, it has only succeeded in prolonging the strike. We hope the union will devote less time to staging events and more time to agreeing to a contract.”

—  St. Vincent Hospital Communications Manager Rhiana Sherwood

The two sides held their third round of negotiations on May 5, but when the nurses denied Tenet’s latest offer, the union said the healthcare group informed them they were canceling future negotiations and would not return to the bargaining table until the nurses are willing to compromise on staffing levels.

Tenet also said it was working to permanently hire the temporary nurses brought in at the start of the strike.