Worcester nurses: ‘We left as one, we go back as one’

By Laura Anderson
and Abby Tilsner
October 11, 2021

WORCESTER, Mass. — Nurses on strike against St. Vincent Hospital here marked a historic 202 days on strike Sept. 25 — the longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history — with an expanded picket line called “Worcester Solidarity Day.” Some 200 strikers and supporters joined the protest called by the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The spirited action included unionists from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Service Employees International Union, Painters union, Carpenters union, roofers, Massachusetts Teachers Association, postal workers, nurses from nearby hospitals, former St. Vincent patients, Socialist Workers Party members, local politicians and others.

Over 700 nurses at St. Vincent walked out March 8 against hospital owner Tenet Healthcare. The central issue is reducing dangerously high nurse-to-patient staffing levels, as well as higher pay and health insurance improvements. The bosses have hired some 100 strikebreaking nurses, but have had to cut back on patients for lack of staff.

The union thought they had finally reached a settlement that would have improved staffing levels in mid-August, but Tenet turned around and announced they would refuse to allow over 100 of the most experienced nurses to return to their jobs as they intended to keep all the scabs. Instead, they said, they would offer senior nurses who went on strike less desirable positions.

“They took an unprecedented step threatening that our jobs may not be there when we go back,” Marlena Pellegrino, co-chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association negotiating committee with 35 years at St. Vincent, told pickets. “The main fight in the beginning was for patient care, but now they want us to step on our own.”

In addition, there are 10 unfair labor practice charges nurses have filed that concern attempts by the company to disrupt the strike and break the union. Tenet demands that these be dropped. There’s also a COVID “bonus” that bosses say will only be given to the strikebreakers. This is an insult to the striking nurses that worked through the pandemic.

After hospital bosses asked the Department of Unemployment Assistance to reconsider its decision to grant unemployment to the striking nurses, the state agency cut off the payments Sept. 4. The company now wants the state to force the strikers to repay some of the earlier payments. “This is a union town,” Maritza Cruz, co-chair of the Worcester Community Labor Coalition, told pickets. “We support the fight financially and will do whatever is needed to help.”

“We are here holding each other up. We want to lead this fight with integrity,” Pellegrino said. “We left as one, We go back as one!”

Contributions to the strike can be sent to the MNA Nurses Strike Fund, 340 Turnpike St., Canton, MA 02021.