After nearly six months of walking the picket line, nurses on strike from Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, learned their unemployment benefits have been suspended.
"It seems to me that it's a tactic," said medical and surgical nurse Dominque Muldoon.
"It's just a pathetic ploy that will not work," said Marie Ritacco, a recovery room nurse.
Under Massachusetts law, unemployment due to a labor dispute qualifies for benefits if the employer continues to operate at greater than 80% of its normal business.
But in early August, Saint Vincent Hospital significantly scaled back its services in response to the ongoing strike.
And according to an internal memo obtained by NBC10 Boston, just this week, "the Department of Unemployment Assistance has found that [the hospital's] request for reconsideration raises 'issues sufficient to warrant placing of eligibility issues' on the striking nurses' claims for unemployment benefits."
More on the nurse strike
"Ironically, our unemployment ends on Sept. 4 anyway. We've been prepared for that," Pellegrino said.
"My understanding is that it is possible that repayment of unemployment benefits could be required if the ruling is made in favor of the reconsideration request," hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson said, according to the internal memo.
That would mean striking nurses could have to repay about a month of unemployment benefits.
"This is just more retaliation meant to inflict pain," said Ritacco.
These nurses say they're especially frustrated by this move because two weeks ago, the two sides finally reached a compromise on the major issue of staffing levels, and were just working out return-to-work agreements and COVID bonuses.
"We were inches away from a tentative agreement with them that would provide staffing that we need to care for our patients," Pellegrino said.
NBC10 Boston reached out to the Department of Unemployment Assistance and a spokesperson said because of a confidentially statute, it cannot comment on this matter.