On Sunday, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare finally responded to the nurses call for safer staffing for safer patient care, shuttling a proposal to the nurses through the federal mediator in the morning, the first proposal by the hospital since they walked away from the table on May 5.
While the nurses had hoped this would be a good faith effort to resume negotiation, upon reviewing the proposal that was clearly not the case and appears to be another public relations ploy by Tenet, needlessly prolonging the strike to avoid accountability for making needed staffing improvements.
Though this newest proposal puts back the staffing grids that were stripped in the last proposal and which the current contract already has in place- it provides no meaningful steps in response to the nurses staffing concerns, and even reduces staffing protections in a number of areas, including Tenet’s reneging on a previous offer to eliminate flex positions, a controversial practice that allowed the hospital to send nurses home on a daily basis, leaving the remaining nurses with unsafe patient assignments. It also includes reduced wage and health benefit provisions from its proposal on May 5.
In response to Tenet’s offer, the nurses will be holding a meeting with the members of the bargaining unit on Monday to review the proposal, and the committee will be preparing a counterproposal to present to management on Tuesday, which the nurses have requested should be in person. The parties have not met in person in over 15 months.
“Simply put, this is one step forward and two steps back,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at St. Vincent Hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “It is not a serious proposal that will allow nurses to provide patients with the care and dignity they deserve from our community hospital. We are hopeful that Tenet will take this opportunity to sit down with the nurses and bargain in good faith — something they have refused to do. For our part, the nurses stand ready to engage in good faith negotiations in an effort to end this strike that is now on its 111th day.”
The strike has taken on greater significance since Tenet’s unseemly decision last month to cease negotiations and to threaten to permanently replace the nurses, a move that has energized the labor movement and heightened regional and national interest in the nurses.
Support for the strike and the nurses cause was clearly demonstrated on Saturday as hundreds turned out for “solidarity rally” for the nurses attended by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Jim McGovern, Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, several members of the Massachusetts legislative delegation, as well as and dozens of labor leaders from throughout the state and the region.
“Nurses work hard to take care of us when it matters most and I stand with them in this fight. It is time for Tenet to return to the bargaining table and conclude negotiations so St. Vincent nurses can go back to doing what they do best – caring for our community,” said Senator Warren.
“Tenet already made an unbelievable $97 million in profit this year. They have plenty of money to address the concerns of St. Vincent nurses, but they won’t. It’s just plain wrong,” said Congressman McGovern. “I know firsthand how amazing the nurses at St. Vincent are – they’ve cared for members of my own family with incredible skill, commitment, and love. They deserve to be respected, not replaced. Every day this strike goes on does more and more damage to the St. Vincent brand. If Tenet cares at all about this community, they will come back to the table right now so St. Vincent nurses can go back to taking care of our community.”
The strike began on March 8, after Tenet had refused to negotiate with the nurses over improvements the nurses are seeking to improve unsafe patient care conditions in the hospital. The decision followed earnest and painstaking efforts over the last two years by the nurses to convince Tenet to improve the patient care conditions at the facility, poor conditions that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Tenet’s greed and disdain for nurses and patients was made even more clear in the last year, as back in April of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, their CEO was quoted in the Dallas morning news touting their plans to use staffing furloughs and funding from the CARES Act stimulus package to “improve their cash position.” And that Tenet did, cutting staff and taking more than $2.8 billion in taxpayer funding to post a profit during the pandemic year of $414 million, with more than $97 million in profits for the first quarter of 2021. Tenet’s stock value also tripled, going from a low of $21.76 per share at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $68.15 as of June 10, 2021.
St. Vincent nurses will continue their efforts to reach an agreement to end a strike that is focused on improving staffing levels and working conditions that have forced more than 700 of them onto the street, conditions that before the strike, drove more than 100 nurses to leave the facility for other hospitals with safer working conditions. The nurses see no likelihood that the hospital can replace them as the strike has been widely lauded throughout the nursing community across the state and the nation, as the nurses have been held up as being heroes for the stand they are making in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
In the year leading up to the strike, nurses filed more than 600 official “unsafe staffing” reports (including more than 110 such reports filed since January 1, 2021) in which nurses informed management in real time that patient care conditions jeopardized the safety of their patients. The nurses also report their patients in Worcester have experienced an increase in patient falls, an increase in patients suffering from preventable bed sores, potentially dangerous delays in patients receiving needed medications and other treatments – all due to lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments, and cuts to valuable support staff.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.
SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association