Tufts RNs to Picket Again on Nov. 2 as Fair Contract Remains Out of Reach
What: Informational Picket by the 1,200 RNs at Tufts Medical Center
When: Thursday, November 2 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Main entrance of Tufts Medical Center, 800 Washington Street, Boston
The 1,200 MNA nurses at Tufts Medical Center will hold an informational picket on Thursday, November 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. outside the hospital in order to draw the public’s attention back to the nurses’ continued fight for a fair contract, as well as to put pressure on management to reach a fair settlement as soon as possible.
The nurses, who held a historic one-day strike in July, resumed negotiations with management in late August and have held more than 10 sessions since then. Contract talks, however, have again stalled and resolution on the three key issues that originally led the RNs to strike — improved staffing, market-competitive wages, and equitable pension benefits for all RNs — remain mostly out of reach.
Nurses’ Counter Proposal Would Allow for Freezing of Existing Pension Plan
During the 10+ sessions since the strike, the RNs have made significant compromises on what the hospital originally identified as its main goal: to freeze the nurses’ existing defined benefit (DB) pension plan. Most recently, and in response to an altered pension proposal put forth by management, the nurses presented a phase-in proposal that would allow the hospital to freeze the DB pension plan on December 31 of this year, contingent upon the hospital adding three years of service to the account of each participating nurse. Subsequently, on Jan. 1 of 2021, the hospital would contribute a match of up to four percent to the defined contribution (DC) plan of these same nurses. Meanwhile, nurses not in the defined benefit pension plan, but who participate in the defined contribution plan, would see their retirement benefits improve in the form of an increased contribution from the hospital.
“This was a serious compromise on our part,” said Barbara Tiller, co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit at Tufts and an IV/PICC/CRN nurse. “Yes, it gives our youngest nurses a boost in retirement savings. And yes, it gets our senior nurses as close as possible to 100 percent of their previous DB benefit. But it is still a long way from a secure DB plan, such as a Taft-Hartley plan, and it is not nearly as competitive as we had hoped.”
Mary Cornacchia, bargaining unit co-chair and OR nurse, added “We offered this compromise because management said the pension was their cornerstone issue, and we hoped it would result in progress on our remaining issues: staffing and market-competitive wages. We were wrong.”
Real Nurses vs. Vague “Resources”
The nurses — who had already significantly revised their previous proposals on staffing — most recently presented simple, targeted language that would enhance staffing in key areas, including IV therapy, clinical resource, and charge nursing.
The nurses’ proposals call on the hospital to have teams of IV and clinical resource nurses available on peak days/times, as well as permanently having charge nurses free of a patient assignment. Management has rejected these modest proposals and has repeatedly countered with murky language that proposes adding “resources” to these areas. The proposal on IV nursing is so murky, in fact, that management cannot even articulate how it will be operationalized.
“These teams are so basic they should already be in place,” said Tiller. “Patients should not have to wait hours on end for IV or PICC-line insertions. But that’s exactly what is happening at Tufts: endless wait times for essential care. Our proposals would solve this; management refuses to accept them.”
With the pension compromise the nurses offered, Tufts will save millions of dollars annually. The union is asking that some of those savings be reinvested in the nurses in the form of enhanced wages.
“The hospital’s issues around recruitment and retention will not improve if management doesn’t enhance wages beyond its last offer,” added Cornacchia. “This should be easy given that we will be saving the hospital millions of dollars by letting the DB go. They have to move or we will lag even further behind the rest of the area hospitals.”
The 1,200 unionized MNA nurses at Tufts saw their contract expire on July, 30 of 2016, and they have been negotiating for a successor agreement for nearly 18 months. Their historic one-day strike — and subsequent four-day lockout — was held July 12 to 17 of this year. The nurses will next negotiate with management just prior to the informational picket on Nov. 2.