Contracts covering thousands of nurses at major hospitals expired and went up for renegotiation this summer, and despite some disputes, most of those hospitals and labor unions are reaching new deals relatively quickly.
While nursing unions have long pushed for stricter staffing requirement like nurse-to-patient ratios — and continue to do so — they're further stressing the need for better wages and benefits to attract needed staff in new contracts. Many new contracts also include language around safety protections for future pandemics after workers grappled with shortages and quick-changing guidance during COVID-19's early months in the U.S.
At Dignity hospitals in California and Nevada, more than 14,000 nurses represented by National Nurses United reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that members will vote on in the coming weeks. It includes stronger infectious disease prevention measures along with a 13.5% wage increase over the next four years, according to the union.
NNU nurses at HCA facilities in Florida, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and California also nabbed new contracts in recent weeks, according to the union. Since February, NNU has reached agreements on more than 50 contracts covering around 27,000 nurses across the country, according to an email statement.
The union is still in negotiations for several dozen more contracts, including those at Sutter Health covering more than 8,000 nurses and other staff at 16 hospitals across Northern California.
NNU is the country's largest nursing union and represents more than 175,000 nurses across the country, but other smaller unions are also striking deals with major hospital chains on new contracts.
Healthcare workers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers at three Tenet hospitals in Southern California voted to ratify new contracts in August, though they did threaten to strike about a month prior to reaching a deal.
One contract covers 610 respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, medical technicians and other staff and Tenet's Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and will boost their salaries by 15% on average in the first year, with additional raises in the next two years.
That contract also includes language around pay for working late shifts, as well as a new health plan that will lower worker's premium costs, according to NUHW.
Healthcare workers were arguably more active last year in the throes of the pandemic, with many staging protests and pickets over inadequate personal protective equipment and staffing issues that helped them garner community support. And many went on strike even amid the public health crisis.
Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked eight strikes involving 1,000 or more workers across all industries, and five of those strikes involved healthcare unions.
BLS has tracked seven strikes so far that began in 2021 involving 1,000 or more workers with just one involving a healthcare labor union.
NNU nurses waged five strikes this year altogether so far, with only one involving more than 1,000 workers, at Cook County Health hospitals in Chicago. The other strikes took place at Community First Medical Center in Chicago, Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, Barton Memorial Hospital in Lake Tahoe and the University of Southern California's Keck Norris Hospital in Los Angeles, according to an email statement.
One strike this year is setting records, though. At Tenet's Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, about 700 nurses have been on an open-ended strike since March 8 over new staffing measures they want in their next contract.
It's now the longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history and the longest nurses strike nationally in over 15 years, according to a release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents those nurses.
The two sides finally inched closer to a deal with an agreement on staffing in August, but that stalled amid disagreements on how striking nurses would return to their roles, as some have been replaced by permanent hires.
HCA, Tenet and Dignity did not respond to questions on new contract deals they are reaching with nursing unions.