WORCESTER (CBS) – Gov. Charlie Baker is calling for movement on the nurses strike at Worcester’s St. Vincent Hospital.

The nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association union, have been on strike since March 8. They are seeking better nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at the hospital, which is owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare.

In a tweet on Friday, Gov. Baker said, “The Commonwealth needs every available healthcare resource fully operational while we are responding to this pandemic. It’s time for both parties to get back to the table and reach consensus at St. Vincent’s Hospital.”

Earlier this week, St. Vincent’s doctors asked nurses to return to work, citing COVID-19 spikes and hospital bed shortages in the Worcester area.

The ongoing work stoppage at nearby St. Vincent’s has brought many more patients to seek care at UMass Memorial, which the hospital says has put an enormous strain on their resources.

The strike is currently the longest nursing strike in state history.

St. Vincent striking nurse Marie Ritacco, who is also the vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, released a statement on behalf of the Nurses Union in response to Gov. Baker’s tweet.

She cites Tenet Healthcare CEO Carolyn Jackson as the reason the two sides haven’t come to an agreement:

“The only obstacle to the St. Vincent Nurses being back in the hospital, and the person responsible for this crisis is Tenet Healthcare’s CEO Carolyn Jackson. We join the Governor in his concern for our patients and our community and we urge him to do whatever he can to convince the source of this stalemate, Ms Jackson, to finally negotiate an equitable end to the dispute that respects the nurses and ensures the safety of our patients.”

The Nurses Union says they were ready to return to work four weeks ago, but a final agreement was “scuttled”.  They noted that there was a basic agreement in place with Tenet Healthcare, but the issue was that striking nurses would lose seniority in assignments returning to work:

“A final agreement was scuttled by Tenet when they demanded the nurses accept an unprecedented and punitive back to work provision that is not only unfair to nurses, but its replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff, would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated Nurses with 10 – 40 years of expertise in highly specialized units, such as the ICU, maternity unit and emergency department are being replaced by newly graduated nurses or novice nurses who under normal circumstances would never be allowed into those positions.” 

Tenet Healthcare also released a statement in response to Gov. Baker’s tweet, which says the Massachusetts Nurses Association has stopped responding in negotiations:

We agree with Governor Baker that the nurses strike has gone on far too long, and it’s no surprise that the MNA refuses to take responsibility for their role in prolonging this strike.

Our attorney spoke with their attorney on August 20 and September 7, and sent a letter on August 26 detailing several creative solutions we have offered to resolve the return-to-work concerns. These solutions included “super seniority rights” for permanently replaced strikers, alternative roles for each of the permanently replaced strikers, and even enhanced severance for those permanently replaced strikers who did not wish to return to work. 

Our attorney explained that he was willing to present us with any creative solutions the MNA had, as long as it did not involve involuntarily displacing the permanent replacement nurses. It is critical that our return to work proposal includes roles for all nurses given the nursing shortage across Massachusetts and the country. 

The MNA’s attorney said he would discuss with MNA executive director Julie Pinkham. We have not heard anything from them since that date. Instead, the MNA disingenuously denies that we reached out to the union at all.

Our willingness to discuss creative solutions remains.

In a statement, St. Vincent Hospital said they agreed with Baker that the strike has gone on too long, and also they reiterated Tenet Healthcare’s stance that they are waiting to hear back from the MNA about their most recent offer:

Our attorney spoke with their attorney on August 20 and September 7, and sent a letter on August 26 detailing several creative solutions we have offered to resolve the return-to-work concerns. These solutions included “super seniority rights” for permanently replaced strikers, alternative roles for each of the permanently replaced strikers, and even enhanced severance for those permanently replaced strikers who did not wish to return to work.

Our attorney explained that he was willing to present us with any creative solutions the MNA had, as long as it did not involve involuntarily displacing the permanent replacement nurses. It is critical that our return to work proposal includes roles for all nurses given the nursing shortage across Massachusetts and the country.

The MNA’s attorney said he would discuss with MNA executive director Julie Pinkham. We have not heard anything from them since that date. Instead, the MNA disingenuously denies that we reached out to the union at all.

CBSBoston.com Staff