- Nurses at Tenet’s St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts voted to accept the terms of a new contract on Monday, effectively ending a strike that stretched just over 300 days.
- The new contract includes a number of measures to improve staffing that nurses sought initially when waging the strike, including limits on how many patients they can be assigned in certain hospital units, along with wage increases, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the nurses.
- The agreement also allows nurses to return to their previous positions amid another COVID-19 surge. The hospital said it expects all returning nurses to be back to work by January 22, according to a statement.
Hundreds of nurses will return to work at one Tenet hospital after what the union calls one of the longest nurses strikes in recent history as a new COVID-19 variant surges across the country.
The fight started on March 8, when around 800 nurses walked off the job in a bid for better staffing and wages to quell what they described as long-standing issues worsened by the pandemic.
Some of their requests were granted nearly nine months later when the hospital and nurses reached a tentative agreement Dec. 17. The nurses ratified the agreement Monday, casting 502 ballots, with 487 voting in favor of ratifying the new contract, the union said in a release.
The new agreement has a number of staffing improvements for certain units, a top priority for the nurses.
Prior to the strike, nurses in the cardiac post-surgical unit were often assigned five patients. Under the newly ratified contract they can only be assigned four patients maximum, according to the union.
Similarly, nurses on the behavioral health unit would previously care for up to six patients, and are now limited to caring for five patients at a time under the new contract terms.
However, staffing improvements in the emergency department and maternity unit were not outlined in the new deal, the union said.
Other changes in the deal include across-the-board wage increases, greater workplace safety protection measures and enhanced health insurance coverage for part-time nurses.
Ultimately, the union and hospital negotiated over a new contract for two years and held more than 43 negotiation sessions. They finally reached the tentative agreement after two weeks of discussions with federal mediators, including a final in-person session mediated by the U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, according to the union. Walsh is reportedly considering whether to run for governor of Massachusetts.
A point of contention that hampered an earlier agreement was details around how striking nurses would return to their roles after the hospital hired some permanent replacement nurses.
Under the new deal the hospital will restore striking nurses to their previous positions while also retaining all permanent replacement nurses in their current roles, the hospital said in a statement.
The move came after "careful consideration of the clinical challenges expected this winter throughout Massachusetts, and the resultant need for as many nurses as possible to provide quality care for our community," the hospital said.