Striking Massachusetts Nurses Outwait Corporate Giant Tenet

Last year’s longest-running strike came to an end in early January when nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, overwhelmingly voted to ratify their new contract and return to work.

Seven hundred nurses had walked out over dangerous staffing conditions last March—ten months ago. (See previous Labor Notes coverage from last April and August.)

In a year of health care workers organizing amid Covid surges and staffing shortages, St. Vincent nurses stood out for their willingness to strike indefinitely and for the discipline the strikers showed.

Open-ended strikes are still a rarity in health care, and Tenet was a formidable opponent: a massive for-profit health care corporation that owns 60 hospitals across the country and is valued at $8 billion.

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Nurses In US Protest COVID-19 Working Conditions

The protests were held under the banner of National Nurses United (NNU), a labor union with more than 175,000 members nationwide, which called on the hospital industry to “invest in safe staffing.”

Hospitals in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, have been struggling to cope up with the new tide of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, as well as worker shortages and burnout.

Nurses are furious over sheer callousness and indifference shown by the government as well as their employers, blaming them for caring about their businesses, not the public health.

The protests took place across 11 US states  and Washington, D.C. “to demand the hospital industry invest in safe staffing, and to demand that President Biden follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritize public health,” according to the union.

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The Big Business Behind Travel Nursing

As the first wave of Covid-19 hit the United States, Jen, a 53-year-old nurse struggling to pay her bills, received an intriguing message. “THE TIME HAS COME TO DEPLOY AT INCREDIBLY HIGH RATES,” read the mass text from Krucial Staffing, sent to nurses nationwide in March 2020 and forwarded to Jen by a colleague. Jen (a pseudonym used to protect her from retaliation from employers) could barely believe the wages promised by the Kansas-based healthcare staffing firm. As part of its massive recruitment drive during the first wave of Covid-19, Krucial was paying $10,000 a week to nurses willing to travel — or “deploy,” in the company’s lingo — to the frontlines in New York City.

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St. Vincent Nurses Strike Sadly Reaches Eight Months

On Monday, Nov. 8,  the historic St. Vincent Hospital nurses strike will reach the eight-month mark,  another sad milestone in their struggle against Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit corporation that has spent more than $100 million and engaged in a number of unfair labor practices to retaliate against the nurses for exercising their right to advocate for safer patient care. The strike is the longest nurses strike in state history, and one of the longest of several strikes by workers across the nation, who are standing up to corporate greed and the devaluation of essential workers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike has caught the attention of labor and social justice advocacy organizations from across the nation, after Tenet has pursued an aggressive campaign to undermine the nurses’ union rights, and to permanently replace the nurses, what some in the labor movement have called a “PATCO moment,” referring to efforts by the Reagan administration to replace air traffic controllers following their strike in the early 1980s. 

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Rural Hospitals Can’t Find The Nurses They Need To Fight COVID

On any given day, Mary Ellen Pratt, CEO of St. James Parish Hospital in rural Lutcher, Louisiana, doesn’t know how she’s going to staff the 25-bed hospital she manages.

With the continued surge of the COVID-19 delta variant, she’s had to redirect resources. Her small team, including managers, has doubled up on duties, shifts and hours to care for intensive care patients, she said.

“We’re having to postpone elective surgeries that require hospitalizations because we can’t take care of those patients in the hospital,” Pratt said. “The staff working in outpatient services have been redeployed to bedside care.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Pratt said, she’s lost nurses who decided to retire early. The hospital offered salary bumps for current staff and incentive pay earlier in the pandemic, Pratt said.

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Nurses In Massachusetts Are Waging The Longest Current Strike In The US

After two months on the picket line, over seven hundred unionized nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, are still out on strike. The walkout, which began on March 8, is the longest nurses’ strike in Massachusetts in decades and currently the longest active picket line in the United States. The nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), are demanding that the hospital improve staffing ratios so they can adequately care for each patient.

In the year leading up to the strike, nurses at Saint Vincent filed more than six hundred official “unsafe staffing” reports. A column in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette recounted one of these reports, wherein a nurse describes a shift in which she was assigned to care for…

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“Those Of Us Who Don’t Die Are Going To Quit”

Nurse Kristen Cline was working a 12-hour shift in October at the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when a code blue rang through the halls. A patient in an isolation room was dying of a coronavirus that had raged for eight months across the country before it made the state the brightest red dot in a nation of hot spots.

Cline knew she needed to protect herself before entering the room, where a second COVID-19 patient was trembling under the covers, sobbing. She reached for the crinkled and dirty N95 mask she had reused for days.

In her post-death report, Cline described how the patient fell victim to a hospital in chaos. The crash cart and breathing bag that should have been in the room were missing.

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Nurse Fired During Fight For PPE Now Facing Board Of Nursing Investigation

Cliff Willmeng, the RN employed at Allina Health’s United Hospital in St Paul, Minnesota, who was fired during workplace struggles for frontline safety and patient care, received notification that Allina Health reported him to the Minnesota Board of Nursing last week. The Board of Nursing, the state governmental body that issues and maintains licenses for registered nurses, can both censor nurses and revoke nurses’ licenses.

Willlmeng has never been reported to any Board of Nursing during his 13-year nursing career, which spans three states and includes employment in emergency medicine, intensive care, and other nursing specialties.

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Athletes Get COVID-19 Tests While Nurses Are Refused Testing

On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She’s off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell — just one couple’s method of escape.

“It makes people feel normal,” she says.

For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season — and the pandemic — wears on.

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Interview With Striking Nurse In Philadelphia Suburb

On Tuesday, November 17, nurses at St. Mary Medical Center (SMMC) in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, went on strike after management refused to establish safe staffing ratios to confront the growing numbers of Covid cases at the hospital. Left Voice spoke with Drew, who has been a nurse for three years and, for the last year, has worked in the inpatient Endoscopy unit at the hospital. He is a rank-and-file member of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), which represents nurses at St. Mary, and has been on the picket line during the strike.

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Nurse Survey Exposes Hospitals’ Failure To Prepare For Covid-19 Surge

National Nurses United’s new nationwide survey of more than 15,000 registered nurses reveals that 11 months into the pandemic, hospitals are failing to prepare for a surge of Covid-19 cases during flu season and that basic infection control and prevention measures are still lacking. Nurses cite the health care industry’s inappropriate pursuit of profit during this public health crisis as the main reason for its failure to follow the proper infection control measures that nurses have been demanding since the beginning of the pandemic.

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With COVID-19 Resurgence, Nurses Speak Out About Unsafe Conditions

New York, NY— Nurses from Albany Medical Center gathered in front of the hospital to highlight conditions that may threaten nurse and patient safety, as the region prepares for a second surge of COVID-19. In the Capital District, newly identified COVID-19 cases have been trending upward since August, and in late September, spiked to their highest rate since July.

After 7 months of the COVID pandemic, nurses are speaking out about the continued lack of preparations and safety protocols at Albany Med.

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Two-Week Strike By Illinois Nurses In Danger

Joliet, IL – The two-week strike by 720 nurses at the AMITA St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois is at a critical juncture. The nurses, who walked out on July 4, are demanding improvements that are necessary for all health care workers, particularly in the midst of the pandemic: safer patient-to-nurse ratios, improved wages and protection against management retaliation.

However, the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), the state AFL-CIO and major unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have forced the nurses to fight one of the largest hospital chains in the state alone, even as AMITA brings in out-of-state strikebreakers and threatens striking workers with poverty if they don’t capitulate.

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Nurse Strike Wave Grows

As the country undergoes a severe surge of COVID cases, many hospitals are still short of PPE. Nurses across the country went on strike this week demanding these vital protections. 

This week, nurses at the AMITA Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Ill. continued the strike they began on Saturday. In response, the hospital has even brought in “scab replacement” nurses to keep the hospital staffed. 

The nurses report making progress at the bargaining table and feel confident they are close to a deal. 

“It’s getting better,” union leader Pat Meade told the Joliet Herald-News, but she warned that they gave up “so much” in the deal as well.  

For more, head to the Joliet Herald-News. 

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