Strike notice delivered to hospital on July 1 as nurses’ concerns over patient safety, lack of resources, and lagging compensation remain unresolved
BOSTON – The 1,200 registered nurses at Tufts Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), delivered a ten-day notice to hospital management on July 1 notifying them of their intent to hold a one-day strike beginning at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, July 12 and running until 6:59 a.m. on Thursday, July 13.
The letter, which was addressed to Tufts CEO Michael Wagner, stated that the Tufts RNs, “… will engage in a strike and picketing beginning at 7 a.m. on July 12, 2017 at and about the Medical Center. It is our intention to end the strike and picketing at 6:59 am on July 13th with the nurses returning to work at that time. However, if Tufts Medical Center locks out or otherwise prevents RNs from returning to work at that time, MNA will continue its strike and picketing until such time as the lockout or other refusal by the Medical Center to allow the nurses to return to work ceases.”
The Tufts RNs have been in talks with management for a new contract since April of 2016, and more than 30 negotiating sessions have been held to date. Last week an additional closed-door session was held at the request of the federal mediator who has been involved in the talks since the spring, but that session failed to result in an agreement that addressed the nurses’ key issues.
“We do not want to strike,” said Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, an OR nurse and bargaining unit co-chair. “But management has left us with no other choice. They won’t hear us. They don’t believe us when we say that the contract improvements we are fighting for are necessary in order to keep patients safe, and in order to keep Tufts Medical Center competitive in a city full of top-notch hospitals. We want to be inside on July 12 caring for our patients, but if striking is the only way to get management to hear us and to take our issues seriously then we will be on the streets instead.”
The nurses’ key issues in these talks continue to be:
- The need for improved nurse staffing with safer patient assignments for nurses throughout the hospital
- The need for more IV nurses and clinical resource nurses
- The need to have charge nurses who are free of patient assignments at the start of all shifts, in all units. A charge nurse is an RN who is responsible for managing all aspects of nursing responsibilities during each shift, from processing patients in and out to delegating nursing rounds. Being free of an initial patient assignment will allow Tufts’ charge nurses to provide desperately needed support to patients and nurses at the busiest time (i.e., change of shift)
- The need for wage improvements that will make the hospital market competitive, thereby improving nurse recruitment and retention
- The need for pension protections/improvements that will make the hospital market competitive
Concerns over Safe Staffing and Safe Patient Care
In the current environment at Tufts, nurses across all units and floors are contending with unsafe staffing situations on a daily basis, with many units reporting constant unsafe staffing levels. The result is too many RNs are regularly carrying patient assignments that are too large and unsafe. Every day, the hospital sends RNs blast-text messages asking them to pick up shifts that are open due to the bare-bones approach management uses to staff the hospital.
Simultaneously, hospital management insists on using a fragmented and broken system of temporary reassignment as a way of trying to deal with its chronic staffing challenges. This results in RNs being directed to work on units and floors where they are unfamiliar and/or untrained to safely care for patients. In addition, there are not enough specialty nurses to help with patients’ IV needs or in an emergency.
“We have offered a variety of proposals — and amended proposals, and doubly amended proposals — that would address staffing,” added Havlicek Cornacchia. “But management’s responses have been so inadequate that they don’t get to the heart of the problem. They insist on offering us staffing proposals that are disjointed and superficial. What we need from them is simple: more full-time RNs and specialty nurses, and charge nurses without an initial patient assignment. That’s what will keep our patients safe.”
Market Competitive Compensation
In addition to having some of the worst staffing conditions in Boston, Tufts Medical Center has also become the hospital that offers its nurses the lowest wages and retirement benefits in the city. “The hospital’s proposals have not adequately addressed these issues,” said Barbara Tiller, union co-chair and an IV/PICC/CRN nurse. “Without market competitive wages and benefits, Tufts cannot recruit and retain the nurses it needs, and the staffing problem spirals downward.”
Management has also proposed freezing the defined benefit pension plan for approximately 350 RNs and instituting a divisive, inequitable, and complex catchup mechanism as part of a proposed higher-risk 403(b) matching program. That change would result in significant losses in retirement funding for most nurses. Meanwhile, RNs already in the defined contribution plan would continue to receive the lowest employer contribution of all nurses in the city.
The nurses have countered with an innovative proposal that would benefit all RNs while still saving the hospital millions of dollars annually. This proposed plan, which is a multi-employer defined benefit pension plan, would add as much as $11 million to Tufts’ bottom line, would eliminate more than $85 million in pension liability, and would save as much as $8 million by eliminating the costs of administering and insuring the existing plan. Management has refused to engage in any real talks on this issue.
“The pay and retirement benefits at Tufts just aren’t competitive,” added Tiller. “We know it, Tufts knows it, and the other hospitals in the city know it. As a result, we’ve become the nurse training ground for all the other facilities. New graduates come here, they get their experience, and they move on. This cycle won’t stop until the hospital makes us competitive. And in the meantime, our patients suffer.”
The nurses voted to authorize this one-day strike on March 29, 2017. They subsequently voted down a last, best, and final contract offer from management on June 8, 2017.
It is expected that the federal mediator will call the nurses back for an additional negotiation session prior to the July 12 strike.
Press Contact: David Schildmeier, 781-249-0430