On Sunday, the nurses of St. Vincent Hospital will mark their 105th day on strike, making it the second longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history and the longest nurses strike nationally in more than a decade.
The work stoppage enters its 15th week in what has become an historic struggle by the nurses against Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit corporation that has spent more than $75 million* to prolong the strike — all to avoid being held accountable for providing safer patient care.
The St. Vincent nurses strike surpasses the 104-day work stoppage waged by nurses at Signature Brockton Hospital in 2001, with the longest strike in the state waged by nurses at Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg, which lasted six months in 1980.
As the strike drags on, the nurses themselves remain as committed as ever to the issue that drove them out on the street on March 8th – the need for appropriate increases in staffing levels to ensure the safety of their patients on every unit and on every shift.
“While we are committed to stand up for our patients and community, the length of this strike is a testament of how Tenant Healthcare executives have chosen to reallocate their vast resources for the last two years away from the bedside, placing the health and safety of patients at great risk especially during the worst pandemic crisis in our nation,” said Dominique Muldoon, RN, a longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The strike has taken on greater significance since Tenet’s unseemly decision last month to cease negotiations and to threaten to permanently replace the nurses, a move that has energized the labor movement and heightened regional and national interest in the nurses.
Support for the strike and the nurses cause was clearly demonstrated last Saturday as hundreds turned out for a “solidarity rally” for the nurses attended by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Jim McGovern, Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, several members of the Massachusetts legislative delegation, as well as and dozens of labor leaders from throughout the state and the region.
“Nurses work hard to take care of us when it matters most and I stand with them in this fight. It is time for Tenet to return to the bargaining table and conclude negotiations so St. Vincent nurses can go back to doing what they do best – caring for our community,” said Senator Warren.
“Tenet already made an unbelievable $97 million in profit this year. They have plenty of money to address the concerns of St. Vincent nurses, but they won’t. It’s just plain wrong,” said Congressman McGovern. “I know firsthand how amazing the nurses at St. Vincent are – they’ve cared for members of my own family with incredible skill, commitment, and love. They deserve to be respected, not replaced. Every day this strike goes on does more and more damage to the St. Vincent brand. If Tenet cares at all about this community, they will come back to the table right now so St. Vincent nurses can go back to taking care of our community.”
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.
Tenet’s greed and disdain for nurses and patients was made even more clear in the last year, as back in April of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, their CEO was quoted in the Dallas morning news touting their plans to use staffing furloughs and funding from the CARES Act stimulus package to “improve their cash position.” And that Tenet did, cutting staff and taking more than $2.8 billion in taxpayer funding to post a profit during the pandemic year of $414 million, with more than $97 million in profits for the first quarter of 2021. Tenet’s stock value also tripled, going from a low of $21.76 per share at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $68.15 as of June 10, 2021.
St. Vincent nurses will continue their efforts to reach an agreement to end a strike that is focused on improving staffing levels and working conditions that have forced more than 700 of them onto the street, conditions that before the strike, drove more than 100 nurses to leave the facility for other hospitals with safer working conditions. The nurses see no likelihood that the hospital can replace them as the strike has been widely lauded throughout the nursing community across the state and the nation, as the nurses have been held up as being heroes for the stand they are making in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
In the year leading up to the strike, nurses filed more than 600 official “unsafe staffing” reports (including more than 110 such reports 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. Massachusetts Nurses Association.