New England nurses set to strike May 5 and 6

Nursing groups at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, St. Vincent's Hospital in Worcester, Mass., and Tufts Medical Center in Boston announced yesterday they're each planning a single-day strike. EMMC nurses say they'll walk out on May 5 and Boston clinicians on May 6.

All three groups cite staffing levels as their core concern and are clearly frustrated with contract negotiations that have dragged on since 2009. Earlier this month, hospital administrators reported rumors that clinicians would strike just before the Easter holiday, but the unions only just gave their required 10-day notice yesterday.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association charges that nurses at St. Vincent's have filed more than 1,000 complaints about "unsafe conditions" at the hospital in the past year and a half. The facility can "well afford" to add more staff, as St. Vincent's for-profit parent company, Vangard Health Care, has earned $50 million in profits in over the last two years, says Marlena Pellegrino, chair of the local bargaining unit.

St. Vincent's officials pushed back, telling the Boston Business Journal that its staffing arrangements are safe, and that the guaranteed staffing levels nurses are demanding would cost $500 million to implement statewide. Tufts' administration added that the nurses' requirements would not allow the hospital flexibility to cover clinicians' lunch breaks or sick leave.

Nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center have already struck once, for one day last fall, according to at story by WABI TV. After the strike, the hospitals locked clinicians out for two days. Total cost: $1 million, hospital officials tell WABI. Officials also insist that staffing levels at the facility are safe, and calls the strike threats "bullying tactics." Nurses need to "come to the table prepared to find solutions within the current realities facing healthcare," officials say.

All the parties are set to be back at the negotiating table next week. Eastern Maine nurses and hospital officials will have their next session on May 3, with St. Vincent's on May 4.

To learn more:
- read the Massachusetts Nurses Association press release
- check out the Boston Business Journal article
- get more details from WABI TV