WORCESTER, Mass. — “This strike isn’t about the money, it’s about safe care,” Bill Lahey, a nurse for 44 years at St. Vincent Hospital here, told Joe Allen and myself, two rail workers who came to show solidarity from Albany, New York, March 31.
Some 700 Massachusetts Nurses Association members are now in the fifth week of their strike. Nurses report that very few strikers have crossed the picket line, and that a number of those who hadn’t walked out have been won to join the strike.
“This is a blue collar town and the public is supporting us. I couldn’t begin to tell you the list of unions that have come to the picket line,” said Lahey, adding that many local politicians have backed the strike as well. He thanked us for coming and said the train crews blow the horn in support every time they go by on the tracks that run alongside the hospital.
A key demand is to reduce the current unsafe 1-to-5 nurse-to-patient ratio to 1-to-4, with additional nurses to help if needed. Hospital bosses have tried to get nurses to back off this demand, offering up to 30% wage increases for workers.
“If we win, this new staff ratio will be the standard. The strike has ramifications for the region and the entire country,” said Lahey. That’s why the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association is helping St. Vincent and its owner, hospital monopoly Tenet, absorb the over $5 million in weekly expenses caused by the strike.
The strikers are not receiving strike pay and are awaiting a decision on their application for unemployment income, Lahey said. “We have set up a strike fund, which is over $50,000.” To support the fund, checks payable to MNA St. Vincent Nurses Strike Fund can be sent to: Massachusetts Nurses Association, 340 Turnpike St., Canton, MA 02021.