CANTON, Mass. – The nearly 1,000 registered nurses of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners HealthCare, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday, March 9 to authorize a one-day strike to protest efforts by Partners to perpetuate its multi-million dollar profit margins and lavish executive salaries on the backs of patients and nurses.
Ninety percent of the NWH nurses who voted Wednesday agreed to authorize a one-day strike.
“No nurse wants to strike, but we have no other option as Partners’ management continues to refuse to heed our proposals to improve patient care and provide nurses with reasonable wage increases,” said Laurie Andersen, co-chair of the MNA Local Bargaining Unit and a nurse in the emergency department at the hospital. “We are taking this vote and contemplating a one-day strike as a protest against Partners’ greed and to educate the public about how the issues at stake in these negotiations impact the quality and safety of their hospital care.”
RNs at both Newton-Wellesley Hospital and North Shore Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United, took the extraordinary step of conducting joint informational picketing outside their hospitals on March 9 because separate contract negotiations have stalled at both facilities.
At Newton-Wellesley Hospital, hundreds of nurses, friends and family, and community supporters lined Washington Street outside the hospital to protest Partners HealthCare and give voice to patients and nurses who deserve better treatment from a “non-profit” health care organization that has made nearly $2 billion in profits over the last five years.
The strike authorization vote at NWH took place throughout the day and into the evening on Wednesday, March 9. Nurses at NWH cast their strike authorization votes by secret ballot outside the hospital. More than half of the NWH nurses cast votes. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the 15-member nurse negotiating committee the authorization to call a one-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. If the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have a 10-day notification period required by law before the nurses go out on strike.
The parties at NWH began negotiations on Sept. 2, 2015 and have held 12 sessions to date. The contract had an expiration date of September 30, 2015. A federal mediator has scheduled the next bargaining session, to take place on Tuesday, March 15.
Despite hearing from many experienced registered nurses, NWH and Partners HealthCare have refused to agree to a proposal nurses believe would improve patient care. Nurses have fought for a number of other care proposals during contract negotiations as well.
Staff nurses in charge should not have a patient assignment except in certain circumstances. A “charge nurse” is responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she has a patient assignment, she is not able to effectively supervise and assist other nurses. This nurse should be managing the flow of patients, be on hand to assist less experienced nurses with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments when staff become overburdened.
The Partners system is the most profitable health care employer in the state, posting profits in 2014 alone of more than $120 million, with revenues in excess of $10.9 billion, according to state tax filings. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profit. NWH alone has made $50 million in profits over the last three years.
A non-profit organization like Partners should be investing this fortune in health care for the communities it serves and in the employees who provide that care. Instead, Partners uses its enormous profits to enrich its top executives. The five highest paid Partners executives got a nearly $1.3 million combined pay hike from 2013 to 2014, equaling a 23% increase in salaries. The five highest paid NWH positions saw a combined salary increase of 14% over the same time period. By comparison, during the current bargaining session, Partners is holding up a settlement, in, part, over just 1% in nurse pay.
“They are making enormous profits, and they are doing it on the backs of the nurses and other caregivers who work so hard to make this hospital a success,” said Nancy Anderson, a longtime RN at NWH and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit. “We have been trying to convince the hospital to be fair to the nurses and to our patients. Now we are appealing directly to the public for their support to ensure that Partners puts patients before profits, and the care of this community ahead of its concern for the corporate bottom line.”