USA: Striking nurses address Independent Socialist Group solidarity meeting

On March 22, Worcester Independent Socialist Group (ISG) organized a public meeting in solidarity with the nurses on strike against the Tenet Healthcare Corporation, owner of St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. ISG supports the nurses 110% and will do whatever we can to support the strike. We are regularly walking the picket line with the nurses and leafleting around the community to raise awareness and support for the strike. We organized this public meeting, which drew 80 people, to give the nurses a platform to talk about their struggle, build support, and discuss possible next steps to win the strike!

Three St. Vincent nurses on strike spoke at the meeting, including the VP of the statewide Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) union, who is also the co-chair of the MNA union at St. Vincent. The nurses raised how patient care is suffering, up to and including preventable deaths, because of the lack of needed staff. Nurses talked about how they are told to “staple or tape” their medical mask when they tear, and how there are not enough masks and gowns in the hospital for nurses to change them in between caring for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. When one MNA nurse tested positive for COVID-19, her hospital claimed that it could not be proven she got the virus from working at the hospital so they were not obligated to pay her worker’s compensation for lost hours! Nurses also raised that because of the harsh working conditions, especially chronic understaffing, many experienced nurses have left St. Vincent for facilities with better patient limits and fairer wages, and the remaining experienced nurses then have the extra tasks of helping with training and mentoring new staff.

An MNA nurse from UMass Memorial and ISG member introduced the meeting, sharing her experience with understaffing, dangerous working conditions during the pandemic, and the severe problems patients face due to the lack of affordable healthcare. Nurses and healthcare workers in Worcester and across the U.S. are forced to work under a failing for-profit healthcare system that was not meeting people’s needs before COVID-19 and is in a worse crisis now. All three nurses on strike spoke about how much the community’s and ISG’s support of the strike means to the nurses. To close the meeting, ISG made an appeal for participants to donate to the MNA’s strike fund and leading up to the meeting, $425 had been donated from ISG members to the strike fund.

Long before the pandemic began, safe staffing was a major issue and has only worsened due to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MNA attempted to bring understaffing issues directly to voters and patients through the Yes on 1 ballot initiative in 2018 which would have established legally mandated safe patient-to-staff limits. Hospital corporations spent millions on ads in a brutal campaign to bury this measure through misinformation, outright lies, and threats to reduce medical services. The St. Vincent strike flows directly from the need for more nurses, including establishing better nurse-to-patient limits to provide safer and more effective care. Hospital corporations are always trying to increase profits by forcing fewer nurses and other healthcare workers to care for more patients. Corporations call this “cutting costs” but it costs lives and creates dangerous working and patient care conditions. The corporate-funded defeat of the Yes on 1 campaign did not bury the issues around the need for safe staffing levels at hospitals: dangerously low staffing conditions at St. Vincent Hospital is the main issue in the strike.

Corporation spending millions to defeat workers

Tenet Healthcare Corporation is spending millions to defeat workers standing up for their rights and the rights of patients. Tenet Healthcare is hiring Worcester police to act as strikebreakers by escorting delivery vans and buses full of scabs ( staff shipped in by the corporation to weaken the strike) across picket lines. Tenet is spending over $30,000 a day and $210,000 a week on turning cops into their private corporate security. St. Vincent Hospital installed 2 security cameras to spy on the picket lines in order to try and intimidate nurses and their supporters. Even though Tenet received nearly $3 billion dollars in stimulus money from the CARES Act, the corporation furloughed staff to increase profits when they could have retrained and reassigned these workers. Make no mistake, Tenet is spending millions to attempt to crush the power of the nurses union and to demoralize the struggle against healthcare profiteering in the region.  Neither corporate goal will work.  Tenet is trying to force the nurses to continue to endure conditions that are dangerous for the patients but useful for Tenet gouging profits off of people who need healthcare.

Tenet Healthcare is spreading lies with the help of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (T&G) and other corporate media. The T&G, owned by corporate media giant GateHouse Media, is spreading the anti-union propaganda of Tenet. Readers have pointed out the skewed coverage, asking in the comments how much Tenet is paying the T&G. One aim of the ISG public meeting was to hear directly from strikers to correct the misinformation and counter the anti-union propaganda of the corporate media. The T&G has published multiple celebratory articles about the handful of union members who crossed the picket line, instead of documenting with the same detail the countless reasons almost 800 nurses went on strike. The corporate T&G has published articles about nurses “bullying” scabs (not only a false claim but the whole concept is as ridiculous as writing an article about a boxing match where you criticize one fighter for throwing punches) while ignoring the reports of bullying and intimidation of nurses by management. The T&G also published claims, without any evidence, of the hospital operating well with scab nurses, while the MNA nurses at the meeting and on their website have documented complaints of chaos, the ignoring of basic safety measures, unsafe conditions, and serious risks to patients.

The pressures on the strikers are increasing. On the first day of the strike, the nurses’ healthcare coverage was canceled by Tenet “Healthcare” Corporation, during a pandemic. This didn’t stop Tenet from still deducting the full amount of health insurance payments from the nurses’ paychecks for part of the pay period. On Friday, March 26th, the nurses received their last paychecks. They and their families are making huge sacrifices to stay afloat, and some are beginning to look for temporary jobs. Despite this, the nurses continue to stand strong as the strike heads towards the end of its fourth week. The energy on the picket lines and at the public meeting is encouraging. In a recent statement, the CEO of St. Vincent says she is afraid the MNA plans to strike at every hospital in the state to win safe patient limits. In the long run, it is exactly these sort of militant union tactics the hospital corporations fear that will win safe patient limits in Massachusetts and beyond. The hospital bosses are clearly scared of the nurses winning this strike and then taking the fight for better patient care and conditions to the next level! A good next step to help the strike would be organizing a mass rally of MNA members across the state, bussing in MNA nurses from all over Massachusetts, and calling for other union and non-union workers to join a mass rally and picket in solidarity. 

Statements of union support like the one made by the Worcester State University chapter of the Massachusetts State College Association, at the initiative of an ISG member, can help build solidarity with the strike. Union members and anyone in solidarity with the strike should join regular shifts on the picket line! We also call on AFL-CIO and other unions in Massachusetts to actively organize support for all workers at St. Vincent Hospital, including those organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), to not cross the picket line. We urge that all the unions at St. Vincent support the nurses by not working at St. Vincent until an agreement with Tenet can be reached that satisfies all the unions at St. Vincent. Workers at other facilities throughout the country owned by Tenet should consider organizing informational picketing and job actions to support the strike!

The Independent Socialist Group suggests the following actions could help build more support and solidarity for the strike:

  1. A mass rally of the MNA and supporters to be held at St. Vincent. MNA members across the state could be bussed into Worcester, and all unions in Massachusetts and other areas could do the same for their members. As part of a rally, mass picketing could be organized at St. Vincent that could successfully block the scabs and show Tenet that the nurses are not alone in this struggle.
  2. Car caravans, like those organized by unions, including the MNA at the beginning of the pandemic, could be organized to visit neighborhoods in Worcester to let people know about the strike and to show support for the nurses!
  3. Standouts with nurses and supporters could be organized at City Hall and at high-traffic intersections throughout Worcester to spread the news of the strike, counter the T&G anti-union propaganda, and show solidarity.

 

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