News & Events

MNA Nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital Vote to Ratify First Union Contract, Bringing Improvements and Strong Standards Benefitting Patients, Nurses, and the Community

St. Luke’s Hospital nurses ratified on February 25 an agreement reached on February 17 with Southcoast Health that will help address nurse retention and recruitment issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Registered nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, voted on February 25 to ratify their first union contract, which will empower them to provide safe, high-quality patient care by securing enforceable standards and improvements.

“Our union contract will immediately benefit nurses, our patients and communities and make positive impacts for years to come,” said Karen Corbett, FCU nurse and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “St. Luke’s nurses are an incredible group of caregivers who have persevered through a global pandemic. This contract values our dedication to patient care and will help us hold Southcoast Health accountable for providing the conditions nurses need to thrive at St. Luke’s.”

Nurses reached a tentative agreement with Southcoast on February 17 and voted to ratify the agreement on February 25. The agreement followed almost three years of negotiations, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and covers nearly 700 nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital. During an informational picket in January, nurses called on Southcoast to quickly finish negotiating a fair contract to stem a significant exodus of nurses, which had created unsafe patient care conditions and left nurses exhausted and suffering from moral injury.

Contract Highlights

There are many different provisions of the contract in addition to those summarized below, creating a comprehensive document that will help support and protect St. Luke’s nurses now and into the future.

  • Staffing: Enforceable staffing language that holds the hospital accountable for ensuring adequate RN staffing. The hospital has committed to maintaining the existing staff grids and making good faith efforts to recruit or otherwise bring in nurses to staff to the grids. The contract language draws from other MNA contracts where nurses fought strong campaigns to gain these same staffing protections.
  • Wages: Every nurse receives an increase every year through the establishment of a fair wage step scale that guarantees nurses advance annually. The wage scale goes a long way in correcting wage inequities that have existed for years. In addition to nurses advancing one step, every step on the scale improves every year. The average increase for nurses in 2022 will be 7.9%.
  • Health Insurance: A contractually protected health insurance benefit that provides two plan options, maintains plan benefit levels, and ensures premium cost sharing percentages will not change during the life of the contract.
  • Earned Time Off: Nurses with 19 or more years of service gain back the fifth week of vacation Southcoast took away several years ago.
  • Scheduling: This contract language will give nurses more control of their schedule and work/life balance. Nurses will be less likely to be bumped off their requested schedule.
  • Assault Pay: If a nurse is assaulted at work by a patient or visitor and requires time off, the hospital will restore all Earned Time used by the nurse within the first five calendar days of the assault.
  • Tuition Reimbursement: Full-time nurses will receive 75% of the cost of tuition for courses pre-approved by HR, up to $2,500 in one academic year.
  • Just Cause: This is a well-established and universally recognized standard in labor law. This contract provision will provide nurses protection against arbitrary or unfair discipline. This helps ensure that nurses can advocate for patients and colleagues without fear of retaliation.
  • Grievance and Arbitration: These clauses — part of all MNA contracts — are a crucial tool for addressing and rectifying violations of the contract.
  • Nurses Secure Labor Management Committee: Establishes a joint-labor management committee comprised of seven MNA RNs to meet regularly with management representatives. The contract also secures dedicated MNA seats on the workplace safety committee.

Negotiation Background

St. Luke’s nurses voted in an NLRB election in November 2018 to join the MNA and began negotiating their contract in May 2019. They were making progress and ramping up a public campaign when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Negotiations were paused for several months while nurses cared for patients on the front lines of the pandemic. Nurses successfully pressured the hospital to make safety improvements during the pandemic, especially around safer personal protective equipment (PPE) and returned to bargaining in summer 2020.

Nurses waged a successful campaign in fall 2020 against a decertification attempt, winning in December 2020. Since that election result was finalized, nurses have built up a strong public campaign around standouts, lawn signs and digital ads, and an informational picket, supplementing their strength at the bargaining table.


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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.