On the Picket Line

Massachusetts nurses strike over safety goes into 12th week

By Jacob Perasso
June 7, 2021

WORCESTER, Mass. — “You can’t spread nurses thin as they have done to us. The hospital is complaining that we will not back off our demand of four patients per nurse. But what is so bad about that demand?” Sandra Thomas, who has been a nurse for 16 years at St. Vincent Hospital here, told the Militant on the picket line May 12.  

“We also want an increase in benefits so nurses can stay working here,” she said. The hospital owners “see only the bottom line, and want us to work for them at low cost. They see the patient as a commodity — but they’re a person!

“We were taken advantage of, they didn’t respect us. That pushed us over the edge.”

Thomas is one of the over 700 nurses here, organized by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who’ve been on strike for 12 weeks against St. Vincent, which is owned by the Dallas-based Tenet Health chain.

“If we win language on staffing in our contract, there has to be teeth to it,” said Karen Coughlin, who serves on the association’s board of directors. “Seven hundred nurses walked out because we can’t care for our patients. This strike is about safety. We’re on strike because they did not listen to us.”

“We have wonderful community support. We have had three interfaith vigils on the picket line. We are part of the community. We live here and this is our hospital,” Dominique Muldoon, co-chair of the union negotiating committee, told us May 23.

The most recent negotiations broke down after the hospital refused to consider a new contract proposal made by the union May 7. Following that the hospital announced it would hire permanent replacements for strikers and posted 102 job offers. The nurses responded with this action.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” Muldoon told the Militant, referring to the job postings. A recent survey showed widespread support for the strike among nurses statewide.

There has been informational picketing over contract issues by Massachusetts Nurses Association members at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Cape Cod Hospital, Falmouth Hospital and other medical facilities in recent weeks.

Some 120 United Steelworkers members on strike against ATI steel in New Bedford, part of a companywide strike by 1,300 workers in five states, “have joined our Saturday standouts at St. Luke’s Hospital there to show support for our contract fight,” Coughlin said, adding that the nurses have joined the steelworkers’ picket lines too.