On the same day (Oct. 20) that the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation wrote to Dallas-based Tenet CEO Saum Sutaria seeking his intervention to end the seven-month strike of the St. Vincent nurses and to reopen desperately needed beds and services, Tenet was issuing an announcement of third quarter profits in excess of $448 million and total revenues of more than $4 billion. This largesse is in addition to the $197 million Tenet generated in the first two quarters of the year, which means that the Fortune 100 company has reaped profits in excess of $645 million throughout the nurses strike – a strike waged to encourage Tenet to invest a portion of its vast resources to ensure safer patient care.
“To see that Tenet is reaping such enormous profits, while allowing our patients to go without care, when there are 700 of us out on the street ready and willing to return to the hospital to provide that care is both shocking and reprehensible,” said Marie Ritacco, RN, a longtime nurse on strike at the hospital and vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “All nurses want is to provide the best care possible for our patients and to do so as soon as possible, yet our CEO is hellbent on retaliating against us and it is the patients who are pay the price for her callous behavior.”
On Wednesday the entire Congressional delegation signed a letter to Tenet’s CEO calling out Tenet for its attack on the nurses and its endangerment of the community, demanding that Sutaria come to Worcester to ensure an equitable end to the crisis that Tenet has created.
“We are alarmed and dismayed by Tenet’s efforts to prolong this crisis with their demand that nurses be denied a return to the positions they held, many of them for decades, prior to the strike. Tenet’s approach violates long accepted standards for the conclusion of a work stoppage and jeopardizes the safety of the patients who will be subject to care from more inexperienced replacement staff,” the lawmakers wrote. “Of more concern is Tenet’s decision to purposefully close desperately needed beds and eliminate services as a punitive ploy to force the nurses to end their strike, using patients and our communities as pawns in their anti-union strategy.”
“It is long past time for Tenet Healthcare to put their own self-serving desire for profit, and their efforts to punish nurses into submission aside, and instead put their energy and vast resources into returning the nurses to the bedside so we can resume providing the care and dignity our patients deserve,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The members of the Mass. Delegation, as well as Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have also raised concerns about Tenet’s actions and use of funds during the pandemic, specifically their efforts to cut staff and their failure to provide other needed resources to its heath care staff while taking more than $2.6 billion in CARESAct funding. These were taxpayer dollars the government allocated for the protection of patients during the worst public health crisis in our nation’s history that, in the words of Tenet’s previous CEO Ron Rittenmeyer, were used by Tenet to “maximize our cash position.”
The strike by the St. Vincent nurses, which began on March 8, followed more than 18 months of negotiations and advocacy by the nurses to convince their CEO Carolyn Jackson that conditions for patients were patently unsafe and needed to be improved to protect their patients and stem the mass exodus of nurses, after more than 100 nurses left the facility largely due to the deplorable working conditions. The strike followed a year of great sacrifice and courageous service by the nurses during the pandemic, as they worked tirelessly to care for patients with inadequate staffing conditions and the required personal protective equipment (some nurses resorted to wearing trash bags after Tenet failed to provide appropriate protective gowns), resulting in hundreds of the nurses becoming infected with the virus themselves.
Back in August, after four days of negotiations, the nurses had agreed to staffing improvements negotiated throughout the strike and were ready to return to work to provide care, particularly during the current surge caused by the Delta variant, yet a final agreement was scuttled by Tenet when they demanded the nurses accept an unprecedented and punitive back to work provision that is not only unfair to nurses, but its replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff, would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated. The hospital’s proposal also called for the nurses to retract all the unfair labor practice charges, opening the door for Tenet to continue its efforts to retaliate against the striking nurses. The nurses are clear that any negotiated Return to Work Agreement must also include a negotiated resolution of any and all unfair labor practice charges the nurses have filed.
As the strike continues, the nurses continue their effort to hold Tenet accountable for their actions and have filed a total of eleven unfair labor practices against the corporation for its actions prior to and throughout the strike including making unlawful threats against striking nurses, retaliation and discrimination towards striking nurses, promises of benefits to non-strikers, and bad faith bargaining tactics, all designed to break the strike and to remove MNA as the nurses’ bargaining agent. This conduct has greatly disturbed the nurses, who are now demanding that any return-to-work agreement must also include resolution of the unfair labor practices and the conduct underlying them.
Without an agreement, the strike will continue as the nurses continue to work with all relevant entities find a way to move the process to a just resolution.