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A Tale of Two Negotiations at Saint Vincent Hospital

Mar 23, 2021

MNA and UFCW Talks Reveal Stark Contrast in Goals and Approach

Worcester, MA – March 23, 2021 – The recent contract negotiation between Saint Vincent Hospital and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) started in January and led to a fair agreement last week after just 10 sessions. It stands in contrast to the still-unresolved 18-month, 33 session negotiation with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), whose strike has entered a third consecutive week.

What enabled respectful and effective negotiations with UFCW?

Several factors contributed to a quick agreement on a new contract for the UFCW, enabling its members to receive improvements in wages, benefits and more. This includes the union doing the following:
  • Put the best interest of its members first. The UFCW acknowledged the benefits to its members of the hospital’s generous proposal on wages, healthcare benefits, differentials, and other issues related to staffing. The parties engaged in meaningful negotiation discussions and presented counteroffers quickly.
  • Recognized the hospital’s constraints and was open to alternatives to achieve the same goal. The UFCW listened to the hospital’s explanation regarding why it could not agree to staffing ratios for patient care associates (PCAs). The parties aligned on a float pool designed to take pressure off PCAs and two new committees that enable the parties to discuss the impact of the float pool as well as other staffing issues as they arise.
  • Allowed their members to vote on the hospital’s offer before issuing a strike notice. Upon reaching an acceptable agreement, the UFCW quickly put it to an immediate vote by its membership. The agreement was ratified within 48 hours after the parties reached a tentative agreement.
  • Approached the negotiation with mutual respect. The UFCW bargaining team negotiated on behalf of its members with respect and courtesy throughout the process. The hospital and UFCW agreed to “mutual respect” language in the contract, which means both committed to show “dignity and respect” for patients and employees, as well as for each other.
“The mutual respect clause embodies the nature of the agreement with UFCW and also sets a positive tone for our relationship going forward,” said Saint Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson. “We are pleased that the UFCW values the importance of mutual respect as much as we do.”

What caused stalled negotiations with MNA despite the hospital’s successive, enhanced offers?

Most of the factors in the UFCW process have not been present in the negotiations with the MNA. Instead, the MNA process has been stalled due to the following behaviors by the union:
  • Put the MNA staffing ratio agenda ahead of their members and patients. The MNA has refused to compromise on across the board staffing ratios. They were unresponsive to the hospital’s significant concessions to meet the union halfway on nurse staffing guidelines. Instead they promoted a strike, during a global pandemic, and are willing to put a generous proposal for their members at risk.
  • Intentionally prolonged negotiations. The MNA spent hours of bargaining time preparing negative communications about the status of negotiations for its members instead of preparing and presenting counterproposals. In fact, the MNA’s bargaining team members were paid by the hospital for over 1,500 hours of time in negotiations. This is at least twice the hours that the hospital was obligated to pay under the ground rules for the talks. (Coincidentally, the MNA called for a strike authorization vote just as its allotment of paid negotiation time ran out.)
  • Refused to negotiate and present a proposal to its members for a vote. The MNA did not allow members to vote on the enhanced offer and staffing concessions presented by the hospital on March 1. Instead, on March 3, the MNA rejected the hospital’s offer, did not present a meaningful counteroffer to reach an agreement that could be presented to its members, and decided to proceed with a strike.
  • Spread false claims to its members and the community. The MNA has repeated false claims about the hospital’s patient safety and nurse staffing. Each claim, including number of complaints filed on staffing, poor hospital quality and safety, lack of staffing to guidelines, has been refuted with facts.
  • Incited a culture of bullying and harassment. Prior to the strike, the MNA bullied and harassed nurses to prevent them from voting against or speaking out against the strike. During the strike, the MNA has bullied and harassed nurses who crossed the picket line as well as the replacement nurses. They also harassed other Saint Vincent employees, physicians, delivery drivers, and even patients arriving for appointments. The MNA leadership has even boasted on video about turning away supply trucks from the hospital. The hospital has asked the union to cease these actions, to no avail.
“The MNA has not been negotiating in good faith even though their contract expired December 31, 2019 and despite the numerous compromises we have made” said Lisa Beaudry, Saint Vincent’s Chief Nursing Officer, who is on the hospital’s bargaining team. “The misinformation they have attempted to spread and the harassment of their own members is indicative of the union’s lack of respect for the bargaining process.”

What does this contrast reveal?

The talks with the UFCW were marked by a recognition that an expeditious, fair conclusion was in everyone’s best interests. It demonstrated that when both sides listen, compromise, and put the members first, an amicable agreement could be reached in just two months. The talks with MNA have been marked by an absence of good faith negotiations, compromise, and respect on the part of the MNA. This has made progress difficult despite best efforts by the hospital.

“These contrasts are a clear illustration of the importance of putting union members and our patients first, a willingness to compromise, as well as a mutual respect for the bargaining process and each other in order to successfully settle a contract in a timely manner” said Jackson. “We hope that the MNA can learn how to compromise from the UFCW and end this strike to return to the negotiating table to work out a new contract with us.”