BOSTON, June 14, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Tuesday June 13, the registered nurses at Tufts Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, finished two days of contract talks with the hospital without reaching a new contract agreement. There are currently no plans to return to the table, and the 1,200 unionized nurses at Tufts are now actively preparing for a one-day strike.
A strike date has not yet been announced, and the nurses have not issued the required ten-day strike notice.
Yesterday's session marked the thirty-fourth time the nurses met with management since contract talks began in April of 2016. The nurses also spent the previous day (June 12) with management, and spent nearly 21 hours working to negotiate a settlement that would address their key issues. Those issues include chronic staffing problems, and the hospital's inability to recruit/retain nurses due to the uncompetitive wages and retirement benefits the hospital provides in comparison to other city hospitals and most surrounding community hospitals.
"Over the last 16 months, the bargaining committee has worked nonstop to get the contractual protections and improvements needed to ensure safe nurse staffing in the hospital while also making Tufts more market competitive," said Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, bargaining unit co-chair and OR nurse. "But what the hospital offered at the end of yesterday's session was really nothing more than a reconfigured version of the offer that the nurses rejected last week."
Last week, on June 9, the nurses held a secret ballot vote on the "last, best, and final" offer that Tufts management forced on them at the end of their May 31 negotiating session. The nurses overwhelming voted that proposal down.
"The issues we have tried to address in these negotiations are crucial, and they are affecting patient safety NOW," said Barbara Tiller, union co-chair and an IV/PICC/CRN nurse. "If the hospital refuses to adequately address these issues at the table, we are ready to take these issues to the public by going on strike."
On June 8, the Boston delegation of elected legislators sent Tufts CEO Mike Wagner a thorough and direct letter calling on the hospital to reach a fair settlement with the RNs that will help protect patients, constituents, and nurses alike. http://www.massnurses.org/TuftsBostonDelegation
Safe Staffing and Safe Patient Care
At the heart of this forthcoming strike is the issue of patient safety. In the current environment at Tufts, nurses across all units and floors are contending with unsafe staffing situations on a daily basis, with many units reporting constant unsafe staffing levels. The result is too many RNs are regularly carrying patient assignments that are too large and unsafe.
"During these negotiations, we have offered a variety of proposals that would address the staffing problems — from unit-specific nurse-to-patient limits, to adding charge nurses who would start each shift without a patient assignment," added Havlicek Cornacchia. "But management has countered with proposals that only act as Band Aids on what has become a very large wound."
Simultaneously, hospital management insists on using a fragmented and broken system of temporary reassignment as a way of trying to deal with its chronic staffing challenges. This results in RNs being directed to work on units and floors where they are unfamiliar and/or untrained to safely care for patients.
A Need to be Market Competitive
In addition to having some of the worst staffing conditions in the city, Tufts Medical Center has also become the hospital with the lowest wages and retirement benefits in the city. "The hospital's proposals have not effectively addressed these vital issues," explained Tiller. "Without market competitive wages and benefits, Tufts cannot recruit and retain the nurses it needs, and the staffing problem spirals downward."
Management has proposed freezing the defined benefit pension plan for approximately 350 RNs and instituting a divisive, inequitable, and complex catchup mechanism as part of a proposed higher-risk 403(b) matching program. That change would result in significant losses in retirement funding for most nurses. Meanwhile, RNs in the defined contribution plan would continue to receive the lowest employer contribution of all nurses in the city.
The nurses have proposed a new pension plan that would benefit all RNs while still resulting in millions of dollars in cost savings for the hospital. This proposed plan, which is a multi-employer defined benefit pension plan, would add as much as $11 million to Tufts' bottom line, would eliminate more than $25 million in pension liability, and save as much as $8 million by eliminating the costs of administering and insuring the plan. Management has refused to engage in any real talks on this issue.
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.
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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association