Federal lawmakers denounce decision to permanently replace nurses at Tenet Massachusetts hospital

A group of federal lawmakers is denouncing Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare's move to permanently replace nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., who have been on strike since March 8.

In a May 27 letter, the members of Congress expressed dismay and disappointment over the decision and highlighted the work of front-line workers who care for patients, protect the community, and have sacrificed their health and the health of their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter is signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, as well as U.S. Reps. James McGovern and Lori Trahan, members of the Central Massachusetts State Legislative Delegation, and members of the Worcester City Council.

"Recently, we were encouraged to see an effort by Tenet to re-engage the nurses on the central issue that continues to leave the negotiations in a stalemate: staffing," the lawmakers wrote. "It is our understanding that a staffing proposal was made by the [Massachusetts Nurses Association] that would settle this central issue. Instead of engaging in a back and forth to reach an agreement, we were shocked to learn that Tenet declined to return to the table and instead decided to invest further resources to prolong this work stoppage and begin to permanently replace these dedicated and respected nurses."

They concluded by calling on Tenet to return to the table and conclude negotiations with the union so nurses can go back to work.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the about 800 nurses at Tenet's Saint Vincent Hospital, is in its 13th week of a strike that began about a month after the existing contract between both sides expired.

The union and hospital have not resumed negotiations since May 5, and Saint Vincent announced May 12 plans to fill about 50 nursing positions with its first job posting for hiring permanent replacement nurses, including day-shift positions scheduled for 32 hours or more weekly in critical care and all but one inpatient med-surg unit. As of May 18, the hospital had posted 102 available permanent replacement nursing positions. 

"We respect our nurses' right to strike, but we have a responsibility to our community to ensure we can continue to deliver the high quality of care we are known for," Saint Vincent Hospital said in a May 28 statement. "Bringing in permanent replacement nurses will help stabilize our workforce if the strike continues."

The hospital added that Tenet has a history of close collaboration and productive working relationships with unions and has made increasing offers to settle the most recent labor dispute with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, including various staffing concessions. Still, it has not been able to reach a breakthrough in negotiations. 

"Our record of quality and patient safety is clear. We stand by the staffing, quality and safety facts we have shared with the public and the legislative delegation," the hospital said. 

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