The elected union leaders who represent the 1,200 MNA nurses at Tufts Medical Center today issued a notice to hospital management stating that they will hold an informational picket on Thursday, November 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. directly in front of the hospital’s main entrance at 800 Washington Street.
The notice was delivered by the nurses’ negotiating committee to Tufts management at the end of what was their forty-third contract negotiation session, and the ninth session since the nurse’s momentous one-day strike in July. In the weeks since that strike, the nurses’ contract talks have yet again stalled and resolution on the three key issues that led to their historic strike — improved staffing, market-competitive wages, and equitable pension benefits for all RNs — remain mostly out of reach.
The informational picket aims to draw the public’s attention back to the nurses’ fight for a fair contract, as well as to put pressure on management to reach a fair settlement as soon as possible.
Nurses, in good faith, offer compromise on pension
Throughout the nine sessions since the strike, the nurses have made significant compromises on what the hospital identified as its main issue: freezing the existing defined benefit (DB) pension plan in the name of cost savings. Most recently, and in response to a pension proposal that management had recently put forth, the nurses countered with a phase-in proposal that would allow the hospital to freeze the DB pension plan on December 31 of this year, contingent upon the hospital adding three years of service to the account of each participating nurse. Subsequently, on Jan. 1 of 2021, the hospital would contribute a match of up to four percent to the defined contribution (DC) plan of these same nurses.
Meanwhile, nurses not in the defined benefit pension plan, but who participate in the defined contribution plan, would see their retirement benefits improve by an additional one and/or two percent in the form of an increased contribution rate from the hospital. These improvements would be phased in over the length of the contract.
“This proposal is a serious compromise on our part,” said Barbara Tiller, co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit at Tufts and an IV/PICC/CRN nurse. “Yes, it gives our youngest nurses a small boost in retirement savings. And yes, it gets our senior nurses as close as possible to 100 percent of their previous DB benefit amounts. But it is still a long way from a secure DB plan, such as a Taft-Hartley plan, and it is still not as competitive as we had hoped for.”
Added bargaining unit co-chair and OR nurse Mary Cornacchia, “We countered with this compromise because management identified the pension as their cornerstone issue, and we hoped it would result in progress on our remaining issues: staffing and market-competitive wages. We were wrong.”
Real Nurses vs. Vague “Resources”
The nurses — who had already significantly revised their previous proposals on staffing —most recently presented simple, targeted proposals that would enhance staffing in core nursing areas, including IV therapy, clinical resource, and charge nursing.
The nurses’ proposals quite simply ask the hospital to commit to having teams of IV and clinical resource nurses available on peak days/times, as well as permanently having charge nurses free of a patient assignment for the length of the contract and beyond. The hospital has rejected these modest proposals and has repeatedly countered with murky language that proposes adding “resources” to these areas. The proposal on IV nursing is so murky, in fact, that management cannot even articulate how it will be operationalized.
“Quite frankly, these teams are so basic they should be in place already,” said Tiller. “Patients shouldn’t have to wait hours on end for IV or PICC-line insertions. That’s just ‘Safe Patient Care 101’. But that’s exactly what is happening at Tufts: endless wait times for essential care. Our proposals would solve this; management refuses to accept them.”
With the pension compromise the nurses offered, Tufts will save millions of dollars annually. The union is asking that some of those savings be reinvested in the nurses in the form of enhanced wages.
“The hospital’s issues around recruitment and retention will not improve if management doesn’t enhance its wages beyond their last offer,” added Cornacchia. “This should be easy given that we will be saving them millions of dollars with the new pension proposal. They have to move or we will lag even further behind the rest of the area hospitals.”
The 1,200 unionized MNA nurses at Tufts saw their contract expire on July, 30 of 2016, and they have been negotiating for a successor agreement for nearly 18 months. Their historic on-day strike — and subsequent four-day lockout — was held July 12 to 17 of this year. The nurses next return to the bargaining table Oct. 23, 2017.