On March 8, in Worcester, Mass., St. Vincent Hospital nurses launched an indefinite strike to demand safe staffing and more affordable healthcare at a time when nurse-to-patient ratios have increased. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nurses have filed more than 500 reports over concerns for patient safety. More than 100 nurses have left the facility pursuing other jobs due to high healthcare costs and grueling, non-stop hours.
Despite record profits, Texas-based Tenet Healthcare, which owns St. Vincent, has failed to concede on these key issues in over 17 months of contract negotiations. On Jan. 28, management offered its “last, best, and final” offer. This forced the 800 nurses, who are unionized with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, to hold a strike authorization vote.
Management’s offer failed to include provisions around safe staffing ratios. On Feb. 10, St. Vincent nurses voted overwhelmingly to strike, with 90 percent of those who cast ballots voting in favor. The threat of a strike forced management back to the table on March 3 with an insulting proposal that addressed low staffing in only two units, leaving out another 10 that serve the majority of patients.
St. Vincent nurses are not strangers to struggle with the for-profit healthcare behemoth. In 2000, they won a heroic 49-day strike for their first contract, which abolished mandatory overtime as a staffing tool. Twenty-one years later, the nurses are back on the picket line to fight for safe patient care conditions.
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined hundreds of nurses and community members on the picket line at 6 a.m. on the first day of the strike and spoke with Sondra Thomas and Kim Steward, who both work in Ward 36 North of the hospital.
“We have been doing this since March  during the pandemic, and nurses are stressed out — we’ve been calling out for help, we’ve been calling out for the safety of our patients. … It’s really tiresome.” Steward told Liberation News: “This is our cry for help. We need safe staffing. Patients have been falling. COVID patients have been getting breakfast that is cold because there are not enough nurses and there is not enough staff.”
Steward added, “Most of us nurses during COVID have sacrificed our lives, sacrificed our families, sacrificed our breaks. We’ve gone with no lunch, no breakfast, no bathroom breaks. It’s taken a toll on us.”
Tenet Healthcare reported $414 million in profits in the final quarter of 2020, but rather than meet the nurses demands, hospital executives have spent $5.4 million on scab labor in an attempt to crush the strike. “They made money off their patients. They made money off us. They lied to us,” said Thomas.
The 800 nurses and their union at St. Vincent Hospital launched their strike on International Women’s Day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women workers. In December 2020, women accounted for 100 percent of jobs lost across the United States. That’s 156,000 jobs. In total, women lost an astounding 5 million jobs in 2020.
But this struggle has not come without a fight, proven by this strike of St. Vincent nurses, who are majority women. In the United States, women make up 90 percent of all registered nurses.
All revolutionary and progressive people should stand in solidarity with the striking nurses and their union at St. Vincent Hospital, and commend their bravery and fighting spirit. PSL members in the region will join the picket line to support the nurses and highlight the struggle in Liberation News throughout the duration of the strike.