The COVID-19 pandemic has led to nurses being overworked, with little bonus incentive. Now, they are standing up for themselves and saying enough is enough as they fight back for workplace rights.
One person on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic is Marie Ritacco, Massachusetts Nurses Association Vice President. She joined the AWF Union Podcast to discuss a current strike at a local hospital, which is no stranger to strikes. Ritacco analyzed the reason for the strike, how to fix the problems and more.
The strike is currently taking place at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass. Ritacco said the former non-profit hospital has been turned into a for-profit chain operated by Tenet Healthcare.
St. Vincent Hospital strike of 2000
Having worked in central Massachusetts throughout her entire career, Ritacco took part in the St. Vincent strike of 2000. Nurses went on strike because they were being forced to work overtime when the hospital was understaffed. This overtime shift would sometimes last a full eight hours on short notice.
Ritacco said forced overtime is dangerous in the healthcare field, where a nurse’s decision could mean life or death for a patient.
Following this incident, the nurses managed to ratify a contract to permit some mandatory overtime shifts of four hours instead of eight. Additionally, these short notice mandatory overtime shifts were only permitted a few times per year.
Fixing the problem in hospitals
St. Vincent Hospital and many other for-profit hospitals have faced understaffing issues. It is unclear whether they suffer from high turnover or an attempt to operate a small workforce.
The hospital also has a problem when it comes to floating nurses. Floating nurses are nurses who are sent to work on a different floors or in wing than normal. This means some nurses may deal with patients who have health issues they are not familiar with, which means it could become a problem if nurses do not understand the patient they are tasked with providing caring.
Ritacco said the start to fixing this ever present problem is to hire more nurses and ensure they have the proper training to handle patients.
Current St. Vincent Hospital strike
The nurses at St. Vincent hospital are currently striking due to the behavior of hospital management. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused nurses everywhere to be overworked, St. Vincent has a history of staffing problems.
To the surprise of their employees, Tenet Healthcare announced they made record profits during the pandemic. While nurses and other hospital staff were again overworked, Tenet cut costs and kept staffing to a minimum in order to rake in large profits.
Lastly, Ritacco said the profits announcement was a slap in the face to nurses, who struggled to get the proper personal protective equipment and more.