On the Picket Line

Striking Vermont nurses win widespread solidarity

By Maggie Trowe
August 6, 2018

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Union nurses mounted spirited picket lines, several rallies and a march through the city as part of a two-day strike against University of Vermont Medical Center bosses here July 12-13.

The nurses, members of Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5221, which represents 1,800 workers at the teaching hospital, are demanding higher pay and better staffing levels to ensure adequate care for patients. They are also demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage for all other hospital workers. Adjusted for the cost of living, Vermont registered nurses’ pay ranks 47th of the 50 states.

The nurses’ contract expired July 9.

“They showed disrespect for us in negotiations,” David Smith, 27, a nurse in the intensive care unit, told the Militant July 13. “There is a chronic staffing shortage, which is why management is always bringing in ‘travel nurses,’” who are hired on temporary contracts and aren’t members of the union.

Teachers, construction workers and other unionists joined in picketing. Firefighters brought bagels and cream cheese. A Ben and Jerry’s truck driver pulled up and gave out cups of ice cream. Red yard signs supporting the nurses dot the lawns of houses and farms in the area.

Hospital management brought in some 600 strike breakers, and on July 13 the hospital’s president, Eileen Whalen, claimed the scab nurses were “providing safe, high-quality care for patients and their families.” But many strikers told us they dispute that claim, saying discussions they had with staff still working inside made it clear it wasn’t true.

“This is the first strike for all of us,” Sandy Michaud, 62, a critical care nurse with 35 years at the hospital, said on the picket line.

Nurses returned to work after the strike as negotiations were set to resume.