Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts have been on strike for two months over staffing levels. Now the hospital is hiring permanent replacements.
Hospital officials said Wednesday that they would begin the process of hiring about 50 permanent replacement nurses, leaving any striking nurse whose position is filled without a guarantee of coming back at the end of the strike. The Massachusetts Nurses Association discounted the move as an attempt to dodge accountability.
“We had hoped we would not need to take this action. However, without a signal that the MNA is willing to compromise and reach resolution, we do not have a choice," Saint Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson said in a statement. "We respect that our nurses have a right to strike, but we have a responsibility to our community. Bringing in permanent replacement nurses will help ensure continuity of care as the strike continues."
If the position of a nurse on strike is permanently filled, the hospital says that nurse won't have a right to return immediately at the end of the strike, but rather would be placed on a "preferential hire list" to become eligible to return as new positions open.
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The decision to hire was made last, week, according to the hospital, after the Massachusetts Nurses Association "made their intentions to continue the strike known by adding a number of non-negotiable items to its already unreasonable staffing proposal."
The MNA countered that the hospital "refused the nurses’ offer to get back to the table," on Friday.
"The nurses remain unmoved by the announcement," the association said in a statement, "and see it as yet another desperate attempt to avoid negotiating in good faith with the nurses; while once again demonstrating the for profit corporation’s complete lack of respect for the nurses and the valuable role they have in protecting the community."
The nurses first went on strike March 8 in a call for improved staffing levels.
One nurse on the picket line said she’s not concerned about losing her position because the staffing levels were low long before the strike. She noted that is, in fact, part of the reason they went on strike.
"They can post as many jobs as they need to because we need the help. We’re going back in. They’re going to address our staffing issues and they need to make it right," nurse Christina Nester said. "They need to show the community that they care and they’re not just here for the money, because it’s not about the money. It’s about the patients."
Both sides have continued to meet over the last 10 weeks in an attempt to reach an accord.