Striking Saint Vincent nurses should no longer receive unemployment benefits, state rules

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The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance has ruled that striking nurses at Worcester-based Saint Vincent Hospital should have their unemployment benefits discontinued, according to hospital and union statements shared with Becker's Oct. 6.  

The ruling states that unemployment benefits should be fully discontinued effective the week ending Aug. 7, meaning any striking nurse who has collected unemployment that week or later must refund that full amount to the state, the hospital said.

Saint Vincent added, "We understand and are concerned that this decision may cause hardship for striking nurses. We believe the proposed contract, once ratified, will provide an immediate significant improvement in economic benefits that can help offset this hardship. Saint Vincent remains committed to ensuring every striking nurse who wants to return can do so. We have offered reasonable and workable solutions to assist any nurse whose previous position may not be immediately available."

The Massachusetts Nurses Association said it has appealed the state ruling, meaning "nurses do not have to pay back any wages for August for the foreseeable future while the issue is under litigation."

Nurses have been on strike since March 8. The primary issue the parties have yet to agree on is the nurses' demand that they return to work in their previous roles

The hospital said all striking nurses who would like to return to work will have a job to go back to and it estimates that 85 percent of nurses will get to return to their former positions.

However, the union has called the hospital's "back-to-work" provision "unfair to nurses" and said the hospital's "replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated."

The union also is demanding that complaints filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board be resolved as a part of any return-to-work agreement.  

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