Tenet hospital proposes UMass staffing language to striking Saint Vincent nurses

Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., and the union representing 800 nurses at the facility made progress during their second round of negotiations since the nurses launched their strike March 8, according to hospital and union statements.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association and Saint Vincent met May 1.

Saint Vincent said it came to the table with an alternative offer that contains Worcester-based UMass Memorial Medical Center's staffing language, and maintains the same prospective wage increases during the life of the new agreement as the offer the hospital presented April 26. Under this proposal, nurses would receive a 2 percent retroactive pay increase effective Jan. 1, 2021. Saint Vincent said the proposal also includes enhanced wage increases for per diem nurses. 

"The hospital has replaced the staffing language in this offer to match that of the UMass's collective bargaining agreement. In doing so, the hospital removed previous language in its proposal around staffing, floating and flexing as well as staffing grids," the hospital said May 1.

The hospital also kept its last proposal from April 26 on the table. That offer includes an audit committee that would hold the hospital accountable to staffing grids, said Saint Vincent. The process involves hiring an independent auditor, chosen by the hospital and union, and adopts an expedited arbitration process. The hospital's proposal from May 1 does not include the staffing audit committee.

"With this alternative proposal, the hospital has clearly given the MNA two very strong but very different options to choose from to work together to find a path forward," the hospital said.

The union praised the alternative proposal May 1, saying it "opens the door to a substantive discussion on the nurses' main issue, which is the need for safer staffing levels to ensure safer patient care."

The nurses' negotiating committee will carefully evaluate the hospital's proposal and will return to the table with a comprehensive response, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. 

"At this time, the nurses will not be discussing the specifics of, or the value of, what the hospital has proposed, but see it as a positive step in the process," the union said.

The strike at Saint Vincent is now in its ninth week.

Staffing has been a key issue for the union throughout negotiations. The union has sought a 4-1 patient-to-nurse ratio on medical/surgical floors and telemetry units, in most cases, as well as resource nurses and other staff on various units. The union also said it wants more emergency department staffing and more nurses to help with urgent and critical situations on the medical/surgical floors. 

Saint Vincent said it will not agree to across-the-board 4:1 staffing on medical surgical units but is hopeful that the union will work with the hospital to reach an agreement.

Both sides plan to meet again May 5.

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