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May 10, 2024

Saint Vincent union workers picket amid strained contract negotiations

A group of people stand with signs, some holding up fists Photo I Courtesy of UFCW Local 1445 UFCW Local 1445 members picket outside of Saint Vincent Hospital on May 3.

In yet another addition to ongoing disputes between Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester and its workers, the hospital is embroiled in contract negotiations with UFCW Local 1445, a union representing about 300 Saint Vincent employees.

Those employees include housekeepers, secretaries, transporters, personal care assistants, critical care technicians, and nursing assistants, said Jack Fell, communications director at UFCW. 

The union members are seeking four main revisions to their contract: a fair, living wage, job protection from outsourcing to temp agencies, safe staffing levels, and affordable health insurance, said Fell.

This comes after Fell said he’s heard stories of one primary care physician and one nurse being assigned to 15 patients at a time and the hospital has brought in unqualified and untrained employees from outside the union. 

The hospital has proposed to dramatically increase the amount employees will pay toward health insurance while declining to give raises in line with the climbing cost of living, he said.

“We are in contract negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the labor union that represents 350 of our staff members in various departments including environmental services, transportation, and our patient care techs. We have been negotiating in good faith with union representatives to reach a new contract. We are disappointed that the union is taking this approach. We have made progress towards a new contract and will continue to negotiate in hopes of reaching a successful resolution,” Shawn Middleton, Saint Vincent communications and public relations manager, said in an email statement to WBJ.

The hospital and union lawyers have held bargaining sessions already, with two more scheduled for the end of May, and Fell said they’ve been tense.  

“The hospital has given nothing and refuse to acknowledge the importance of the workers, refuse to acknowledge the lack of safety for the staff and the patients, and refuse to address the problems of outsourcing the jobs.” Fell said.“Frankly, without these folks, without these workers, the hospital can't run, and the hospital can’t provide the care that they need. And the fact that they're considering outsourcing and paying them such disrespectful wages is not only an insult to the workers, it's an insult to the Worcester community, and it's endangering the Worcester community.”

During early negotiations, Saint Vincent has proposed a 2.25% hourly wage increase per year, averaging to about 42 cents an hour for employees, Fell said. Though Fell did not give an exact raise percentage UFCW members are looking for, he said it is substantially higher than the current offer.

“We would need a significant wage increase just in order to keep up with the cost of living, and it needs to reflect the importance of the work of our members, right? We keep the hospital running. These healthcare workers are vital to the hospital, to the community and provide the best care,” he said.

Union members have been informational picketing outside of Saint Vincents since April ahead of their contract ending on May 1. Fell said picketers are not looking to assuage patients from entering the hospital, but instead, are aiming to inform those utilizing services about workers’ conditions and the contract negotiations.  

“We want the community to be well aware of what's going on right now and to be willing to stand up and say something and stand up to the hospital,” said Fell. 

Fell declined to comment if the UFCW workers were planning on striking in the future.

This controversy is just the latest in what has been several years of disputes and accusations between Saint Vincent and its workers. 

In March 2021, Saint Vincent nurses entered into a 301-day strike, citing staffing shortages, unsafe working conditions, and unfair treatment, marking the longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history. 

January saw the Massachusetts Department of Public Health launch an investigation into Saint Vincent while the Massachusetts Nurses Association labor union filed more than 600 complaints against the hospital. In March, eight nurses file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Saint Vinent and its parent company, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare; a nonprofit accrediting agency found the hospital non-compliant with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conditions; and the DPH was forced to refute an implied claim by the hospital that the department’s investigation had concluded, finding no wrongdoing in regards to nurses’ working conditions. The DPH advised the investigation was still ongoing.  

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