Taunton, MA — The nearly 400 registered nurses and healthcare professionals (HCPs) at Steward Morton Hospital in Taunton, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), cast an overwhelming vote yesterday to ratify a new three-year contract that includes significant wage hikes and other improvements that the union believes is key to stemming an exodus of staff to higher paying hospitals outside the community, as well as to ensuring the staff’s ability to deliver quality patient care.
Following months of contentious talks, the agreement came together after the nurses took an equally overwhelming vote to authorize a strike if necessary back on May 11th.
”This contract is a testament to the unity of our nurses and health professionals, who made it clear to management that we were ready to do whatever it takes, up to and including a strike, to achieve what we needed to recruit and retain the dedicated and talented staff that make this hospital run,” said Jacqui Fitts, RN and chairperson of the MNA local bargaining unit at Morton. “We are pleased that our administration heeded our concerns and decided to work with us to reach a settlement we all can be proud of.”
- Wages: Most staff will see across the board wage increases totaling 11 percent over the life of the agreement or 15 percent for the most senior staff members, including 5 percent in the 2022, 3 percent in 2023 (except that the most senior staff will receive 7 percent increases) and another 3 percent in 2024. It also includes higher increases for pharmacists and salary adjustments for social workers that will see those professionals’ pay increase between 17 – 20 percent (as they have been paid below market rates for years). The pact also includes significant increases in differentials, including $10 per hour for nurses picking up extra premium shifts on nights, weekends and holidays.
- Staffing and Working Conditions: a major concern for the negotiations was the need to develop staffing standards for the MORCAP substance abuse treatment program, where the nurses were able to include contractually guaranteed staffing levels. Another issue was the need to reduce the floating of intensive care unit nurses off of their unit to deliver care to other understaffed units, resulting in a long pattern of ICU RN resignations and difficulty recruiting to the unit This was a addressed by negotiating a new $7 per hour differential for nurses who want to join a hospital-wide float pool, which will provide greater flexibility in meeting patient needs throughout the hospital, while allowing ICU nurses and others to focus on providing care in their own areas of expertise.
In addition, the contract includes improvements to nurses’ vacation time benefit, and provides more flexibility for per diem nurses to work their required monthly hours to help retain this valuable adjunct to the core staffing plan.
The unionized staff also wanted to express their appreciation for the strong support they received throughout the process from state and local political officials, other labor unions and members of the community who attended a rally last April and advocated on their behalf throughout this process.
“From the outset, this was a struggle not only for the caregivers at Morton Hospital, but for the community we serve, as they are the ones who suffer when we don’t have the local staff available to deliver the care they need when they need it, “said Cheryl Dutra, RPh and vice chairperson of the bargaining unit. “The support of the community at our rally and on other occasions throughout the process was key to our success.”
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 25,000 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.