By Ri Banks and Jacquelyn
On Monday February 28th, St. Vincent nurses voted overwhelmingly to keep their union and representation with Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The 10-month St. Vincent nurses strike — the longest of its kind in Massachusetts history — came to an end in early January with a stunning victory for the workers. Raises, improved safety regulations, and a promise to address both staffing shortages and nurse-to-patient ratios were all part of the new contract. But at the same time St. Vincent’s nurses were celebrating their victory, Tenant Healthcare and National Right to Work Foundation were filing a petition to force a decertification vote on the Massachusetts Nurses Association as retaliation.
There has been a full-court press to break the MNA affiliation with St. Vincent, as seen by recent billboards, accusations of scab bullying of the now-returned strikers, and scabs supposedly attempting to organize with other unions. Saint Vincent’s CEO Carolyn Jackson had given ‘her word’ that a union would be welcomed at the hospital, and that the source of the vitriol stems only specifically from the MNA union presence.
As reported by MassLive, C. Richard Avola, a nurse who was hired to replace the striking nurses, tried to remove the MNA and affiliate the working nurses with a new union — the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Viola stated that he had AFSCME’s “verbal support” and that he needed 256 signatures, the required 30% of the hospital’s replacement nurses, to trigger a vote to remove the MNA. However, AFSCME’s Communication Director, Jim Durkin disputed this and stated that “AFSCME does not organize at workplaces where a union already exists. We believe in bringing the benefits of union membership to non-union members and their families. We most certainly would never entertain organizing workers who cross the picket line.”
Although the Massachusetts Nurses Association had numbers in their favor, MNA remained cautious but confident that this wasn’t a decided and dead race due to this onslaught of corporate attacks. If decertification was successful the MNA says “…the decertification would have stripped the nurses of their union rights and any right to enforce their recently ratified contract that provides the nurses with hard-fought and long-sought improvements in staffing/patient care conditions, as well as significant wage and benefit enhancements.”
To trigger a vote to decide if the existing MNA union should be decertified required only one-third of the staff – a threshold that was met. Ballots were initially sent out on February 4 with an order to have them turned in by February 25. On February 28th, the nurses of St. Vincent voted in favor of keeping their union 302-133, jettisoning Tenet’s attempt to punish them for their successful strike.
Upon this week’s victory, the Massachusetts Nurses Association wrote that “The honor and integrity of our union is strong, as the St. Vincent nurses have reaffirmed our right to maintain a powerful voice in our advocacy for our patients and our work life. We now look forward to working with all our colleagues to truly begin the healing process and to build a positive future for St. Vincent Hospital,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, a longtime nurse at SVH and co-chair of the nurse’s local bargaining unit with the MNA. “We are proud of our union and the great contract we have built over the last 22 years, a contract that provides our nurses with a strong voice to ensure optimum patient care, and which protects and rewards all nurses at the hospital for the contributions they make to the success of, this, our community hospital.”
Ri Banks is a member of Worcester DSA. Jacquelyn is a member of Cape Cod DSA.