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February 11, 2021

Saint Vincent nurses vote to strike

Photo | Grant Welker Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester

Saint Vincent Hospital's 800 registered nurses have voted to strike, alleging conditions at the Worcester hospital have jeopardized the safety of their patients.

The vote to strike, which the union reported late Wednesday night, doesn't yet mean nurses have walked off the job. The Massachusetts Nurses Association is required to give a 10-day notice before, and Saint Vincent said Thursday it has not received such a notice.

The nurses' union at Saint Vincent began picketing outside the hospital in early January to protest what it said was unsafe staffing levels for patients during a peak of coronavirus cases. More than 100 nurses have quit Saint Vincent in the past 10 months, the union said, because of what it calls untenable conditions and a punitive management culture.

The union is alleging Tenet Healthcare, the hospital's Dallas-based owner, is instituting cost-saving measures at the same time it's experiencing strong financial performance.

The Saint Vincent union vote Wednesday night came a day after Tenet released its fourth-quarter 2020 financial results showing $414 million in profit on more than $4 billion in net operating revenue. Saint Vincent ended its most recent fiscal year with a nearly $74-million net surplus, a 14.2% profit margin, the state's Center for Health Information and Analysis reported last fall.

The hospital and the union were scheduled to meet with a mediator on Thursday.

Saint Vincent's final negotiations offer, according to a staff notice obtained by the Worcester Business Journal, gave 1% raises retroactive to last July 1, and a lump sum payment of 2% of wages moving forward. Both of those aspects disappear if the contract isn't ratified by Feb. 18. Among other aspects, all nurses will advance a step on a pay scale, and receive 1% pay increases until June 2022, and a 2% increase after that. Even shift differential pay would also increase.

Saint Vincent said in a statement Thursday that should the union proceed with its strike, the hospital would remain fully operational.

The hospital said the package it is offering the union is the strongest in 10 years and offers substantial pay increases, as high as 22% for some nurses. It criticized the Massachusetts Nurses Association for its stance on pushing for higher staffing levels.

"The MNA is trying to alter staffing guidelines and has unsuccessfully tried to put forth staffing ratios in the legislature for more than a decade," the hospital said in a statement. "They also lost on the ballot question two years ago, and are now trying to gain through negotiations what they failed to get through the ballot initiative. Our current collective bargaining agreement already includes staffing guidelines which were negotiated with the MNA and that are better than most other hospitals."

A 2018 ballot question Saint Vincent referred to, which was defeated, would have set new standards for how many patients a nurse could be assigned at once in Massachusetts hospitals.

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