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Brigham Nurses’ Strike Would Be City’s First In 30 Years

Brigham Nurses’ Strike Would Be City’s First In 30 Years

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association on Tuesday set June 27 for a one-day strike at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which would be the first time in 30 years that nurses at a Boston hospital walk off the job.

The threatened strike — inevitably affecting patient care at one of the city’s major academic medical centers — has pushed hospital administrators to build a detailed contingency plan that would lock out the nurses for five days and replace them with 700 temporary nurses.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh signaled that he might get involved in the labor dispute over wages, benefits, and other issues. And state health officials said they will monitor the hospital in case of a strike to make sure patients get safe care during what would be the first-ever nurses strike at Brigham.

“If necessary [the mayor] will interject because he knows that avoiding a strike is in the best interest of the hospital, the workers, and the entire city,” said Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Walsh.

The hospital said it will lock out union nurses for five days to guarantee continuity of care. The 700 temporary nurses amount to less than a quarter of the union nursing staff. The hospital said the replacement nurses will work with 130 non-union Brigham nurses.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association set the date for the strike Tuesday morning after a near-unanimous vote Monday authorizing the strike. The union represents 3,300 nurses at Brigham, which is owned by Partners HealthCare, the state’s largest and wealthiest health care provider.

The union approved strikes at Brigham in 1996 and 2006 but didn’t end up walking out.

The strike still could be avoided if both sides agree on a contract in the coming days. Both the union and the hospital said Tuesday that they were open to meeting again, but no meeting date has been set.

Kelly Morgan, a labor and delivery nurse at Brigham and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, said nurses no longer feel valued and respected by hospital management.

“The nurses have decided we’re going to stand up and be heard and want to be valued again,” she said. “We don’t want to go on strike, but we will. It’s the Brigham’s choice whether they choose to go [back] to the table.”

The hospital denied that it undervalues its nurses.

“The leadership team and the entire BWH community have the utmost respect for our nurses and the unparalleled care they provide to our patients and their families every day,” Dr. Ron M. Walls, chief operating officer of Brigham, said in a statement. “The fact that our nurses are among the highest-paid locally, regionally, and nationally speaks to how much we value them.”

The union and the hospital have failed to reach agreement on a variety of issues, including wages, time off, benefits, staffing levels — even the length of a new contract. The hospital is seeking a three-year deal, while the union wants an 18-month contract.

Under the current contract, Brigham nurses receive 5 percent annual raises for their first 18 years on the job. The hospital has proposed keeping those annual raises and giving most nurses an additional 1 percent increase over three years. Nurses already at the top of the pay scale would receive a 1.5 percent increase, plus a $500 bonus.

The union wants nurses to receive existing step raises, plus a 4 percent increase over 18 months. The average Brigham nurse makes $106,000 a year, plus benefits.

The work stoppage would come after nine months and 19 meetings on contract negotiations between the union and the hospital. As those talks grew more acrimonious, nurses picketed outside the hospital in May.

Brigham patients could see their care disrupted as both sides prepare for the potential strike.

The hospital has started canceling certain appointments and procedures to prepare for a possible work stoppage. It’s unclear exactly how many patients would be affected.

Hospital officials said that since earlier this month they have been developing a “detailed operational and tactical plan” to prepare for a strike.

“The logistics of such a plan are extensive, and the hospital’s focus remains, as always, on providing safe, high-quality care to our patients,” Brigham said in a statement. “Because of this, in the event the union calls a strike, the plan will be implemented for five days to ensure smooth transitions and the safe and effective care of each patient.”

Nurses strikes are rare. The last one in Boston was in 1986 at Carney Hospital. More recently, one-day strikes were held at Quincy Medical Center, in April 2013, and at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, in October 2012, according to the union.

“It’s very rare for health care workers to go on strike,” said Gary N. Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University. “They only go on strike if they feel tremendously neglected. . . . It’s a call for help.”

But when nurses do strike, they can be effective, he said, because they enjoy a lot of public support for their work.

In case of a strike at Brigham, state health officials will send surveyors to monitor the hospital.

“The Department of Public Health will ensure the hospital maintains a contingency plan to protect adequate staffing and the safety of patients.” department spokesman Scott Zoback said.

The strike is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on June 27.

 

Originally appeared on Boston Globe.

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