UPDATE: Tuesday, Jan. 21: Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital are set to vote Jan. 3 to ratify a new contract after labor leaders and management reached a tentative agreement Friday. The nurses have also agreed to suspend picketing outside the hospital until the vote.
- After 285 days on strike, hundreds of registered nurses at Tenet's St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, reached a tentative agreement for a new contract with hospital management on Friday.
- The agreement, once ratified, guarantees striking nurses can return to their original positions, which was a point of contention throughout negotiations. It also provides staffing improvements striking nurses said were needed for them to return to work at the hospital, especially with a new COVID-19 variant on the rise, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the nurses.
- The two sides negotiated over a new contract for two years and held more than 43 negotiation sessions. They finally reached a deal after two weeks of discussions with federal mediators, including a final in-person session mediated by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, according to the union. Walsh is reportedly considering whether to run for governor in Massachusetts.
Labor unions, especially those representing healthcare workers, have been active throughout the pandemic staging rallies, pickets and work stoppages to secure better working conditions and wages for those on the front lines.
Earlier this spring, 800 nurses at Tenet's St. Vincent Hospital walked off the job in a bid for better staffing and wages to quell what they described as long-standing issues worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, they finally nabbed a deal to stop the strike, which ended up being one of the longest nurses strikes nationally in over a decade, and the second-longest nurses strike in state history, according to the union.
Specifics of the deal are being withheld until nurses ratify the contract, though they "secured important staffing improvements that will enhance their ability to provide safe, high-quality care," the union said in a release.
Staffing ratios dictating how many patients one nurse can be assigned were a key ask throughout negotiations, though it's unclear whether those are included in the agreement.
The two sides were close to reaching a deal this summer amid rising cases of the delta variant, but specifics on how nurses would return to their roles after the hospital hired some permanent replacement nurses hampered their ability to reach an agreement then.
Under the tentative agreement reached Friday, 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.
That decision 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.
The nurses hope to hold the ratification vote as soon as possible, according to the union.
"Once this is ratified by the members, we are now committed to getting back into that building as soon as possible to provide the care our patients deserve," Dominique Muldoon, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the bargaining unit, said in a union release.
Healthcare workers across the country have engaged in a number of strikes this year, which typically last several days to a week.
But the work stoppage at St. Vincent wasn't the only open-ended strike.
In October, 2,000 nurses, technologists, clerical staff, aides and other service workers at Catholic Health System's Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, waged an open-ended strike after being unable to reach a deal on a new contract.
That strike lasted 40 days and ended shortly after the hospital said it was cutting off health coverage for striking workers until a tentative agreement was reached.