News & Events

Nurses’ strike vote is Friday

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nurses’ strike vote is Friday
2 sides differ on staffing levels


WORCESTER — Registered nurses at St. Vincent Hospital are scheduled to vote Friday on whether to authorize a one-day strike, a move that follows months of contract negotiations with the hospital’s management over issues such as staffing levels.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents 740 nurses at the hospital, said yesterday that the most recent talks with management on Monday ended without agreement.

A vote to authorize a strike would give the nurses’ negotiating committee the ability to call a strike “if and when they feel it is necessary,” according to the MNA.

“Every day that goes by without us having some meaningful dialogue at the table with this management makes (a strike) more likely,” said nurse Marie E. Ritacco, a member of the negotiating team.

Hospital spokesman Dennis L. Irish said St. Vincent management was aware of the strike vote and had a contingency plan, as required by the state, to keep the hospital open during a strike with replacement workers.

“There are additional negotiating sessions that are still scheduled, and we will continue to negotiate in the hope a strike can be averted because it hurts patients,” Mr. Irish said.

The nurses say staffing levels at the hospital are unsafe, and they are seeking provisions in a new contract to set specific staffing levels, such as one nurse for every four patients on a medical-surgical unit. The nurses’ contract with St. Vincent expired in December 2009 and has been extended by agreement of both sides to April 19.

A federal mediator has been working with both sides. The next negotiating session is scheduled for April 13.

If nurses authorize a strike, it would not happen immediately. The union is required to give St. Vincent management 10 days’ notice.

St. Vincent Hospital is owned by Vanguard Health Systems of Nashville, Tenn. Nurses last called a strike at St. Vincent in 2000, when the downtown facility opened.

More recently, hospital officials informed the state that they believe the MNA is planning strikes at four Massachusetts hospitals and one Maine hospital on April 22, Good Friday. Hospital officials said they found notes in the hospital outlining plans for the strikes. The union acknowledged that the notes came from a union member but said they did not indicate an official plan.

“We are not coordinating a specific date with any other hospital,” Ms. Ritacco said yesterday, when asked if the vote is leading up to strikes at multiple sites. “Right now, we are on our timeline.”