The five hundred unionized nurses of Lawrence General Hospital (LGH), who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), overwhelmingly voted in favor of ratifying their new three-year contract yesterday, August 25.
The ratification comes after 14 months of contract negotiations, 12 of which included a federal mediator. The tentative agreement for the now-ratified contract was reached in the early morning hours of July 28, just hours ahead of a planned informational picket by the nurses that was then called off.
The RNs, who have worked tirelessly to care for the people of Greater Lawrence through the two-plus years of the pandemic — often at great personal risk and with limited resources — have long been aware of the unique challenges facing both the hospital and its surrounding community. Lawrence had the distinction of having one of the highest rates of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, a scenario that was further complicated by the fact that its residents earn, on average, far below the state’s median household income and often struggle with access to basic resources as a result.
LGH nurses, with support from the MNA, have repeatedly pointed out to hospital administrators, local community leaders, and state and federal elected officials that “every single social predictor affecting health outcomes points to the need for maximum healthcare funding and resources to be directed to the greater Lawrence area.”
“We talk forever about social determinates of health, and of lifting up immigrant gateway communities, and the public health crisis affecting people of color,” said MNA co-chairperson and RN Laurie Spheekas. “We talk. But when it comes to doing, why does LGH remain in such constant and desperate need of federal and state funding? It must change.”
“To all the government officials who have been struggling with us to direct the funding this hospital and community need, thank you,” added Spheekas. “For those who have not yet joined us, please get on board. It’s the only way to help and protect the people of this vibrant and important city.”
The new agreement includes numerous workplace enhancements and improvements, including:
Charge nurses will not have a patient assignment in the ICU and on the medical/surgical and telemetry units during the day and evening shifts. In addition, charge nurses will have no more than three patients during the night shifts. This is expected to significantly improve patient care conditions at Lawrence General as it will allow charge nurses to coordinate the overall needs of patients and nurses, as well as the workflow on each individual floor/unit. It will also allow the charge nurses to assist colleagues with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments should staff become overburdened.
Wages that Will Improve Nurse Recruitment and Retention
· For regular RNs, the elimination of a 20-year “tenure requirement” that previously stalled members on the wage scale at Step 19.
· Retroactive pay
· Over the three-year contract, regular nurses will see wage improvements of between 5% and 6.5% depending on their step placement. Per diem nurses will also see wage increases of up to 6.5%, with a marked improvement to the lower portion of that scale in the hopes that it will help recruit and retain newer nurses to the hospital.
· Access to the health insurance program for part-time nurses working at least 20 hours per week
· Expansion of some “Tier 1” services which will provide nurses with more healthcare options/choices
· Preservation of the plans existing costs and benefits through 2024
The newly ratified contract will run through September 30, 2024.