A Nurse On A Nursing Strike

Tj Saccoccio, City News Editor

The St. Vincent Nurses strike has been an ongoing labor dispute in Worcester, MA. For eight months, nurses have been picketing for safer patient ratios and better working conditions. Hospital owner Tenet Healthcare has been pushing back against the strike, in part by bringing in substantial amounts of travel nurses to fill the vacancies left by union nurses. How do student nurses feel about the strike? What can I learn from nurses about the strike? Senior nursing student Bruce Johnson gave some perspective on the issue.

Bruce, class of 2022, is a clinic assistant at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. He spends his time on duty welcoming patients, guiding patients to the doctor’s offices, checks vital signs, and ensures that the patient’s vital signs stay consistent throughout their visit. Johnson, smiling ear to ear, went on to say, “my job gives my life purpose, the kids I treat mean the world to me”. As someone who works with children with cancer, he said patient safety and comfort are two of the most important parts of his job.

At a time of unique collectivism in labor, the St. Vincent nurses strike is not the only one of its kind. The pandemic has exacerbated the problems facing nurses including long hours and high patient ratios. Nurses in Buffalo, New York’s Mercy Hospital were on strike for just over a month citing similar issues to the St. Vincent Nurses: Poor working conditions and staffing levels. Mercy Hospital’s owner, Catholic Health System and the nurses’ union reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 5, returning to work shortly after. New York Attorney General Letitia James told the Associated Press, “I am pleased that the hardworking members of CWA reached a tentative agreement with Catholic Health System and are finally getting the treatment they deserve”. This begs the question, why has the St. Vincent’s strike lasted so long?

To this question Bruce gave a thoughtful, puzzled expression. He didn’t know how to really answer the question, moments later returning with “you’d think there’d be compromise when it’s about safety. The nurses aren’t lazy, it’s just the resources available”. Nurses at St. Vincent have filed over 500 reports about issues in the hospital, to which Tenet has responded with travelling nurses and negotiations that did not satisfy the MNA (Massachusetts Nurses Association). In August they declared their “last, best, and final offer” that nurses claim is an “unsatisfactory ultimatum”. Nurses have been shifting their work to other hospitals in the area while still refusing to cross the picket line, triggering bed closures and service cutbacks in the hospital.

After talking to him about the longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history, could Bruce see himself striking like the St. Vincent Nurses? “I’m not sure, it’s a really tough situation for everyone there,” further adding “in nursing school, you’re taught to advocate for yourself and for patient safety, it’s sort of textbook”. After two years of love and praise for frontline healthcare workers at the height of the pandemic, it was frustrating for Johnson to see the disregard for nurses’ opinions, from patient ratios to COVID-19. Listening to healthcare professionals is of grave importance, especially those making large profits off of their labor such as Tenet Healthcare.