The healthcare professionals of Boston VNA are seeking a first contract with the MNA that includes improvements to patient care conditions and provisions to help retain and recruit clinicians
BOSTON, Mass. – The 39 healthcare professionals (HCPs) of the VNA of Boston, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday, June 22 to authorize a potential limited duration strike as they seek their first MNA contract. Corporate owner VNA Care, which has offices in Worcester, Needham, and Danvers, refuses to agree to key provisions around patient care conditions, health insurance and retirement security.
Eighty percent of the HCPs – physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and speech therapists – turned out to vote on June 22 and voted 100% to authorize their MNA Bargaining Committee to call for a strike if necessary. The length and timing of the strike have yet to be determined by the HCPs elected by their colleagues to represent them on the committee. HCPs voted to authorize the potential strike after many months of negotiations and VNA Care creating significant roadblocks to a contract agreement:
- VNA Care refuses to safely limit the patient care assignments given to HCPs on a daily basis. Excessive caseloads makes it extremely difficult for HCPs to provide the level of care patients deserve, especially patients who need complex treatments following hospitalization or surgery. Instead, VNA Care wants unlimited ability to assign cases to HCPs with no regard for the complexity of patient care requirements.
- VNA Care wants the right to increase health insurance costs or decrease coverage unilaterally. HCPs are seeking the same health insurance arrangement VNA Care has with its registered nurses so HCPs can count on accessible and affordable coverage for themselves and their families.
- VNA Care does not want to guarantee any retirement contributions for HCPs. The HCPs have proposed receiving the same 401K match as other network employees.
- VNA Care is proposing to cut sick time for newer HCPs, from 13 days annually to six, a change that would only force clinicians to work while sick and threaten the safety of patients. The agency is also proposing to reduce bereavement days.
- VNA Care refuses to agree to a wage scale that properly values the care HCPs provide and their increasing experience level as they continue to work for the agency. Wage scales are a standard in union contracts that provide for fair and transparent pay increases and help with recruitment and retention.
“We are dedicated to this process and getting a fair and equitable contract,” said Rod Hemingway, MNA Co-Chair and an occupational therapist. “They have not respected us and have decided they just don’t want to give us the predictability we need. A contract will give our members stability in our wages and benefits, so we can plan our lives and care for our children or family members. People want to grow roots down deep at the VNA. We want to care for our patients and make the agency the best it can be. When new staff come in, we want them to stay and become trusted, experienced healthcare professionals. There is no reason we can’t be the agency of choice.”
“It is frustrating that they are purposefully delaying our contract. They are coming to the table for show, not to make any progress, and are not even willing to give us equity with the nurses,” said Nikki Ducey, a physical therapist and MNA Co-Chair. “Nurses agree the workload is the same and should be counted the same. We are all working together to treat the patients and for our own employer to value us differently, and really less than, is awful. We are looking for predictability and reliability. They want complete discretion. I have been here almost 10 years and they have taken so much away. They took away the retirement match and I have not had a raise in five years. To not know what those benefits will look like from year to year is very discouraging.”
“We have been committed to our patients, to our union and to this negotiation process,” said Debra Nowak, MNA Co-Chair and a physical therapist. “We stand in solidarity as we take all steps necessary to protect our patients and secure a contract that adequately supports and empowers our clinicians.”
Background on BVNA HCPs and Negotiations
The HCPs voted to join the MNA as part of a National Labor Relations Board election in late 2019. The MNA also represents registered nurses working for the VNA of Boston, who have a separate contract.
Established in 1886, VNA of Boston is the oldest organized VNA in the country. The VNA of Boston and its HCPs provide essential in-home care and recovery services to thousands of patients across an enormous area of Massachusetts that includes Boston, Brookline, South Boston, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Roxbury, Brighton, the North End, Chinatown, Quincy, Everett, Winthrop, Milton, Revere, and more.
The medical needs of these patients are varied and complex and may include, among other things, post-surgical conditions such as total hip or total knee replacements; stroke; Parkinson's Disease; Multiple Sclerosis; Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS); cardiopulmonary conditions; amputations; and post-trauma care (breaks, fractures).
In recent years, many hospital-based services for patients have shifted to in-home services, making VNAs and HCPs an essential and ever-expanding part of the American healthcare system. Hospitals now move patients back home faster than before as doing so reduces costs and opens in-hospital beds. This has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the region's at-home patient population as well as in the complexity of those patients.
However, the working conditions for the HCPs who care for at-home patients have not kept pace with environmental changes or the market, which is what prompted the Boston VNA's HCPs to unionize with the MNA. In December, the HCPs delivered a petition signed by 100% of members to the office of the VNA's CEO Todd Rose. The petition stated that they expect the organization to bargain with them in good faith for a first contract that is fair, equitable, and good for patients and members alike.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.