Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, voted to approve a new contract Monday, ending a strike that has kept them on the picket line for 301 days.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the 700 striking nurses, reached a tentative agreement with Tenet Healthcare, the hospital’s Dallas-based parent company, on Dec. 17. Union members have now ratified that deal on a vote with 487 in favor and nine against. The contract is retroactively effective to Jan. 3, 2021 and runs through Dec. 31, 2025. Nurses have been without a contract since the end of 2019.
Under the agreement, nurses can return to their previous positions within 30 days and Tenet Healthcare agreed to safer working conditions, the union announced in a news release. St. Vincent Hospital also will retain all the permanent replacement nurses it hired during the months-long strike.
“This has been a long and arduous struggle by 700 courageous caregivers who put everything on the line to achieve the improvements we need to ensure optimum patient care,” Marlena Pellegrino, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s local bargaining unit, said in a news release.
“The new contract will provide enhancements for patients and our team, and we are glad to finally end the strike and put our sole focus back on patient care,” St. Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson said in a news release. “We will be setting a new tone at St. Vincent Hospital: We are one team with a common purpose. Not striking nurses versus replacement nurses. Not nurses versus management. One team united behind the principles of professionalism, excellence, accountability and compassion.”
Under the agreement, Tenet Healthcare agreed to maintain specific staffing levels and ratios in different departments and to limit flex staffing, which allows the hospital to send nurses home when patients volume is low, according to the the nurses union. Nurses will get 2% raises each year of the contract, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, and back pay for the past two years dating to the end of the previous collective bargaining agreement.
The contract also adds two nurses to the Hospital Workforce Safety Committee to represent nurses on workplace violence and it requires the hospital to maintain a metal detector in the emergency department and to provide additional police staffing at nights, on weekends and on holidays.
Negotiators reached the tentative deal last month following two weeks of federal mediation. The labor action commenced last March after two years of two years of talks failed to produce an agreement between Tenet Healthcare and the nurses union. The strike was the longest by nurses in state history and the longest nationally in more than 15 years, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Four Massachusetts congressional Democrats questioned how Tenet Healthcare was using its COVID-19 relief funds last June, given the strike over staffing levels. And National Nurses United has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate what it calls “exploitative” contracts for new nurses at Tenet Healthcare and two other health systems.
“With this agreement we can go back into that building with great pride not just in what we got in writing in the agreement, but for what we have built together as nurses who know they did everything they could for their patients and their community,” Dominique Muldoon, a nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the bargaining unit, said in a news release.