It has been 202 days since hundreds of nurses from Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, walked off the job over what they called unsafe staffing levels, and they are demanding a full restitution of their positions as their strike for safe patient care continues.
Saturday they brought a coalition of supporters, including social justice activists and labor rights advocates, to picket outside the hospital as they have done many times now.
“In order for nurses to have the need to come out on the street and to be on strike, like, there's something wrong,” noted University of Massachusetts Young Democratic Socialists of America activist Tim Fay.
Nurses like Marlena Pellegrino, who has dedicated 35 years to the profession, said, "Their focus is not on patient care, it's on destroying our union rights.”
Pellegrino was working at St. Vincent Hospital where she said the shortage of staff and resources was affecting nurses’ ability to care for patients and for themselves -- that prompted her and about 700 others to go on strike.
"We could've been back to work by now,” she noted.
The strike nearly ended a month ago before negotiations fell through due to a disagreement between the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the nurses on strike, and Tenet Healthcare, which owns the hospital.
"We were very close to a tentative agreement with the hospital with Tenet until they insisted on a very retaliatory, very punitive return-to-work agreement, which does not return us all to our previous positions,” said Pellegrino.
Some of those positions are currently occupied by newer nurses the hospital hired during the strike, preventing some of the striking nurses from getting their old job back, said Pellegrino.
In a statement to NBC10 Boston, Saint Vincent Hospital blamed the nurses on strike for prolonging the situation by rejecting proposed solutions, saying in part, "… solutions included ‘super seniority rights’ for permanently replaced strikers, alternative roles for each of the permanently replaced strikers, and even enhanced severance for those permanently replaced strikers who did not wish to return to work.”
The impasse continues, as the hospital said it is open to a proposal that won’t displace the newly hired nurses, while the nurses union said it is waiting on the hospital to resolve pending cases of unfair labor practices.