Union nurses at Tufts Medical Center left their patients’ bedsides on Wednesday to strike after negotiations broke down over how the nurses’ retirement packages would be structured.
Although the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) called it a 24-hour strike and made a show of attempting to return the work on Thursday, the ruse was generally recognized to be a mere publicity stunt. As the hospital had announced previously to the public and nurses in numerous forums, any replacement nurses must be hired for a minimum number of days and that any attempt by the MNA nurses to return to work after one day of striking was not practical.
In a staged “encounter” at the hospital on Thursday, the nurses claimed they were being “locked out.” TMC officials repeated what they had said all along – the nurses could return on Monday.
“The MNA’s own documents reveal that the union deliberately timed the strike to be ‘most harmful to the hospital,’ which is completely irresponsible,” said MHA’s President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE. “The targeted action will ultimately harm the nurses themselves and cost millions that will be drawn from the funding the hospital had available for nurses' wage increases.”
According to statements from both sides, the issue that led to the strike was not about staffing or the generous pay package Tufts MC offered, but rather about the nurses’ pension plan. The hospital – like most private sector employers – wanted to move the nurses from their current defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan similar to the common 401(k). The MNA, on the other hand, wants to move its pension plan and its inherent risks to a plan shared by New York sanitation workers and a for-profit hospital group. That pension fund is run by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“Tufts Medical Center has been both responsible and responsive in these negotiations,” MHA’s Nicholas said. “The hospital contracted and trained replacement nurses to ensure that even with the union’s efforts to damage the hospital and disrupt patient care, Tufts Medical Center will continue its mission uninterrupted, and patient care will remain at the center of everything they do. By continuing a hostile approach to interactions with Tufts Medical Center and other hospitals that employ its nurses, the MNA union leadership has shown in very concrete actions that they are not only willing but eager to put themselves before patients.”