Nurses strike averted at Tufts
Negotiators for Tufts Medical Center and the Massachusetts Nurses Association agreed on an 18-month contract extension early this morning, only hours before 1,100 registered nurses were set to walk off their jobs at the Boston teaching hospital.
The tentative deal, reached after 15 hours of bargaining yesterday and overnight, avoided what would have been the first nurses strike at a Boston hospital in 25 years. The nurses association withdrew its strike notice and scheduled a ratification vote for May 19.
While the contract extension does not resolve the dispute over the union's demand for mandatory staffing levels, the key sticking point in the contentious talks, the parties agreed that Tufts would continue its current practice of not assigning more than five patients to a single nurse on the day or evening shift for the life of the pact. The hospital agreed to limit patient assignments to no more than six on the night shift during the next year and a half.
The specific number of patients assigned to nurses on a given shift will be worked out by a nurse manager or supervisor in collaboration with nurses.
Tufts, a 415-bed affiliate of Tufts Medical School, currently has no mandatory staffing ratios and said the tentative pact does not commit it to any. The hospital has sought to increase the number of patients nurses can handle in some cases to reduce costs and, it says, improve the efficiency of operations. It also has hired nonunion technicians to perform some tasks formerly done by nurses, such as escorting patients to tests.
"Our nurses made a courageous stand for safe staffing and working conditions, and the hospital finally responded with improvements that we believe will enhance our ability to deliver the care our patients expect and deserve," registered nurse Barbara Tiller, co-chairwoman of the union's bargaining unit, said in a statement issued at 2:44 a.m. today, shortly after the tentative agreement was struck.
Hospital officials, for their part, emphasized their relief at averting a strike. Tufts had already contracted with a Colorado-based staffing firm, US Nursing Corp., to supply 200 replacement nurses for the next five days. The replacement workers arrived in Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday and were staying in a hotel, waiting for word on the contract talks.
The preparation for a strike has cost the hospital millions of dollars. While union members had approved a 24-hour walkout, Tufts said the nurses would not be allowed to return until Wednesday morning if they struck because the replacement nurses had been guaranteed a certain number of hours.
"This has been a long and difficult process, but throughout we have listened to our nurses and responded to their needs," Tufts chief executive Ellen Zane said in a statement. "We value the hard work and dedication our nursing professionals, who are some of the most skilled in the nation. Now is the time for us all to move forward together."
Nurses will receive a 2 percent salary increase under the contract extension. The average salary for a full-time nurse at Tufts now is $114,543, while those at the top of the scale are paid $126,032, according to the hospital. The majority of the hospital's nurses work part time.