Photo Credit: Telegram and Gazette
By Vincent Cross
On Wednesday, more than 700 of the 800 nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts voted in favor of striking. Demands are for safe staffing and legal patient-to-nurse ratios. While the vote authorizes the union to strike, they have yet to give management the required ten-day notice before the strike can begin.
Nurses have been picketing daily outside St. Vincent since December as bargaining stagnated and failed due to management’s unwillingness to increase staffing and hours for nurses at the hospital. Worsening conditions for healthcare workers are not unique to St. Vincent, as hospitals across the US are understaffed, and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Vincent nurses are overworked and overwhelmed by the nurse-to-patient ratio. This negatively impacts both nurses and patients, who do not receive proper care.
One nurse explained to Tribune how hospital administration was violating their contracts: “We’re guaranteed a 5:1 patient to nurse ratio in our current contract but in reality, it’s never anywhere near that.”
According to many nurses, the lack of staffing at the hospital extends beyond nurses and to the medical assistants and support staff. Nurses have to take on duties and tasks that do not fall under their purview. “At this point the only thing they don’t have us doing is cleaning the floors,” another nurse told Tribune.
Picket attendees interviewed by Tribune said that the understaffing crisis is a result of bad working conditions created by management which have given the hospital a reputation as a negligent workplace. “No one wants to work at St. Vincent’s because the shifts are given at random and management is impossible to work with,” said one nurse.
While management included significant raises in their latest bargaining offer to the union, this was rejected by nurses because of the hospital’s practice of “flexible scheduling,” which involves canceling shifts last minute. Nurses have stated that any raises they received would be nullified by management through the loss of hours and furloughs.
The picket lines have also been attended by Worcester public school teachers, who themselves have been working without a contract since August. One teacher on the picket line told Tribune that “no matter the profession, bosses and management are using the chaos of the crisis as an excuse to erode working conditions.”
Even though the strike has been authorized for over a week, the union has not stated when the strike would begin. Despite the union’s vacillation, many nurses have stated that a strike is inevitable given that management refused to amend their January 28 offer. “This hospital is owned by an out-of-state company, and they just don’t seem to care about the quality of care people in Worcester receive,” another nurse told Tribune.
As imperialist crisis deepens, workers face longer and harder workdays under worsening conditions. Nurses at the picket line expressed that only more direct and collective action would win their demands for better work conditions.
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