CANTON, Mass. – The 3,300 registered nurses of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), voted overwhelmingly on Monday to authorize a one-day strike.
In a unified show of strength, 2,460 nurses cast ballots, with the nurses voting 2,345 to 115 (95 percent) in favor of the strike authorization – the largest nurses' strike vote in Massachusetts history. Brigham nurses are fighting corporate greed and standing up for their patients and profession as they negotiate a new contract with the hospital and Partners HealthCare.
“Brigham nurses spoke loud and clear today. They are taking a stand for the Brigham Way, for nursing excellence and safe patient care,” said Trish Powers, RN OR staff nurse and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association BWH bargaining unit. “There is no justification for the hospital’s stance in these negotiations. When a corporation makes billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions in profits, there is no reason why it should reduce nurse staffing, impact the quality of care for our patients and reduce nurse benefits.”
The 17-member BWH RN bargaining committee will discuss when to set a date for a one-day strike. That date will be announced to the public once the hospital has been given the 10-day notice required by law. Brigham nurses will then plan for a 24-hour strike, unless the hospital agrees to a fair contract settlement by that date. If the nurses decide to strike, it would be the first strike of nurses in the City of Boston in more than 20 years and the largest nurses’ strike in Massachusetts history.
BWH/Partners HealthCare has said it plans to hire 700 temporary nurses to provide patient care during a potential strike. The hospital does not mention in its public messaging about this temporary hiring that there are 3,300 unionized nurses at the Brigham. Nor does it tell the public how unrealistic it is that these 700 replacement nurses could make up for the temporary loss of the Brigham nurses.
Nurses at the Brigham are highly trained in specialized care areas, ensuring the safety of some of the sickest patients in the region. They walk the halls of the hospital every day. They know and have worked with the physicians at the hospital and cared for their patients for years. They know the Brigham’s equipment and operating systems and they are trusted by their colleagues.
“Brigham nurses are irreplaceable,” said Kelly Morgan, a labor and delivery nurse and vice chair of the MNA BWH bargaining unit. “Without these 3,300 nurses, the Brigham is inoperable.”
The hospital has also said publicly that if there is a strike, they anticipate it will last five days. That is misleading. Brigham nurses are voting to authorize a one-day strike. They plan to walkout and not work for one 24-hour period in protest of the hospital and Partners failing to provide a fair contract settlement offer. The hospital has responded by threatening to lock out nurses for four days following the potential strike day. If the hospital locks out nurses when they try to return to their patients after one day, that will be solely the hospital’s decision.
Key outstanding issues:
Safe Staffing TICU/NICU Care
The hospital has reduced nurse staffing in the thoracic step-down unit. This unit treats patients who have had lung transplants, heated chemotherapy and other serious procedures. These complex patients require constant, vigilant nursing care to prevent potentially life-threatening complications. The MNA’s proposal is to ensure safe nurse staffing levels in the thoracic unit.
The hospital has also attempted to implement smart phones in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) without input from staff nurses. These phones will take nurses away from the bedside, where they should be providing direct care to some of the sickest babies in the region. They would be used to forward alarms to a succession of nurses, resulting in potentially devastating delays in care. Nurses have posed a number of questions about these phones, which have not been fully answered. Serious concerns remain.
Equal Benefits for all Nurses
The hospital is seeking to force all newly hired nurses into lesser benefit programs. These proposals are an attempt to union bust by removing the ability of nurses to collectively negotiate their health benefits and by creating a two-tiered benefit system for nurses.
Flex insurance is a hospital-controlled health insurance program not subject to bargaining. Six years ago, the hospital lured nurses in with low rates and then part-time nurses saw their premiums double to quadruple in just one year.
Benefit time provides eight fewer days off per year than the traditional time-off system. It also takes away nurses’ choice on when and how to use different types of time off and forces them to use days they may not have otherwise used when taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The hospital is offering only a 1% across-the-board increase over three years for all nurses and 0.5% to nurses at the top of the salary scale.
Partners made profits of more than $600 million in FY2014. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profits, including nearly $100 million stashed in off-shore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. BWH itself made $152 million in profits in 2014
A non-profit like Partners should be investing this fortune in health care for the communities it serves and in the employees who provide that care. Instead, Partners uses its enormous profits to enrich its top executives. The five highest paid Partners executives got a nearly $1.3 million combined pay hike from 2013 to 2014, equaling a 23 percent increase in salaries.
“Brigham nurses provide life-saving care every day and deserve a fair wage increase,” Powers said. “It is irresponsible that a hospital reaping enormous profits refuses to offer a fair wage increase to nurses while trying to create a two-tiered, union-busting benefit system.”
Nurses have been negotiating since September 2015 to reach an agreement to replace the contract that was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2015. They have participated in 19 bargaining sessions to date. The last session was June 1. There are no other negotiating dates scheduled.