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Cracks in the façade
Tenet’s service cuts at St. V’s show signs of weakness
For the dual purposes of background info and shameless self promotion I’ve written about the St. V’s nurses strike quite a bit. I wrote a dispatch from the first days of the strike, a post on some of the bologna the ownership company has pulled to turn the public against the nurses, and an overview of the situation for a wider audience in Welcome To Hell World, which is probably the best intro point if you’re coming into this issue cold. I think labor issues like this are some of the most important issues local journalists can take on, and my independent status vis-à-vis direct support from my readers helps me write about it in a way that makes sense. There are good guys and bad guys in stories like this and I don’t have to pretend there aren’t. Please consider subscribing to support my work if you don’t already! Here’s a nice little deal.
Today I woke up and I said hmmm, haven’t written about the nurses’ strike at Saint Vincent Hospital in a while, it being in its fifth month and all, so I punched some keywords into the ol’ Google machine and what do I find but this Worcester Business Journal article from today titled “Saint Vincent Hospital cuts back services, blames striking nurses.”
Apparently, on Monday, Saint Vincent will reduce their inpatient bed count by 80, cut eight procedural rooms and close patient services like cardiac rehab and wound care. No more wound care for you! Hope you don’t get wounded because this hospital can’t help ya there, bud.
On its website, St. V’s published a statement titled “Saint Vincent Hospital Scaling Back Services Due to Ongoing Nurses Strike.”
The subhead reads “Focus is on sustaining operations as the MNA intends to strike through the summer.”
I think we all have a tendency to overuse the word “gaslighting” but it feels pretty appropriate in this instance, doesn’t it?
The headline of the hospital’s statement should read: “Saint Vincent Hospital Scaling Back Services Because We Hired A Bunch Of Long Term Replacement Nurses And Spend Millions on Police Details To Make An Example Of The Striking Nurses So This Doesn’t Happen At Our Other 59 Hospitals And This Shit Is Getting Expensive.”
Tenet, the company that owns Saint Vincent Hospital, is a national for-profit enterprise based out of Dallas. They own some 60 hospitals across the country as well as countless other adjacent medical facilities. They can easily absorb the cost of meeting the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s demands, they have demonstrated that they can easily afford the cost of not meeting the demands, and now they’re shifting the cost of not meeting the nurses’ demands onto everyone in the area by providing less services.
Let’s check in on Tenet’s stock price again, shall we? This is a fun game.
Oh hey, look at that! Still going up and up. The company’s share price at roughly the start of the global pandemic? $12.98. The company’s share price now? $71.79.
I suppose it’s not entirely out-of-pocket that a company that benefited so much from a deadly virus would not particularly give a shit about the people that work for it. But it’s heavy, nonetheless, and both the nurses and anyone who, God forbid, needs to use the hospital deserve so much better.
This strike began on March 8. It is currently in its 20th week. Its fifth month. These nurses have valiantly refused to capitulate to bad-faith offer after bad-faith offer from Tenet to renegotiate the contract. The nurses’ key demand, which the company has failed to offer time and again, is a safe patient ratio. What that means is a mandate written into the contract that most nurses will only have to tend to four patients at a time, no more. Tending to more patients, they argue, burns nurses out and reduces the quality of care each patient receives. Makes sense, right? It’s a simple demand, and it’s a demand that most hospitals in the state are already meeting.
Tenet, however—perhaps because their main goal is not healthcare but to demonstrate growth on an infinite curve to shareholders—refuses to meet this simple demand.
This is how Tenet decided to conclude their little release about making the hospital shittier to spite the striking nurses.
Scaling back services is something Saint Vincent Hospital had hoped it would not need to do, and this decision was not an easy one. By preserving core services now, Saint Vincent Hospital will be able to sustain operations and continue that commitment and performance. The hospital hopes to resume these services and enhance them once the nursing strike ends.
It is unbelievably callous and vampiric to blame the striking nurses for the hospital’s failure to provide adequate service, and I’d hope the average news consumer around here can see through this obvious bit of posturing and spin.
This is a very well-off company from Dallas telling the people of the Worcester area that they cannot continue to operate the hospital they own at full capacity because the nurses who live in this area and work in this area have the nerve to demand better working conditions and safer conditions for their patients.
It’s insulting they even think this stuff is going to work.
However, silver lining here: the hospital deciding to cut back services proves the strike is working. It means this strike is starting to hit them where it hurts. And that’s the only way labor has ever won in the history of organized labor. The company will only capitulate to the needs of its workers if it finds itself unable to continue to turn a profit otherwise. Cutting 80 beds is not a move a company makes when it’s turning a profit!! If you look at the hospital’s announcement and mentally block out every instance in which they blame the nurses, it just looks like a hospital that is not doing so hot.
Let’s try that out on the third paragraph, shall we? Substack does not allow you to strikethrough text, I guess, so the italicized and bolded bits are the ones you should be blocking out with your mind’s eye.
In an effort to maintain core healthcare services that are crucial to the community, Saint Vincent Hospital has made the difficult decision to reduce select services. These reductions are a direct result of the bargaining committee of the MNA and its supporters deliberately prolonging the strike through the end of the summer, and coincidentally, the end of supplemental COVID unemployment and COBRA subsidies. Their irresponsible decisions are now putting healthcare access for Central Massachusetts residents in jeopardy as [T]he hospital is forced to make extremely difficult choices. The service reductions now will preserve access to core services and preserve jobs for SVH staff that may otherwise be at risk.
Doesn’t sound good at all! Sounds like you goofed, Tenet!
I reached out to the MNA for comment and got this back in the form of a statement.
“We are disappointed that Tenet continues to put a concern for profits over a concern for the care and dignity of the patients we care for at St. Vincent Hospital,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “This is just another ploy by Tenet to threaten the safety of the public and to intimidate our nurses, at a time when we have been working in good faith to resolve this dispute for the good of all in our community.”
Interestingly, in terms of timing and attempts at narrative control, Saint Vincent announced this decision to scale back services and cuck us all into thinking it’s the nurses’ fault just a week before the nurses and the company are going back to the negotiating table. They’re scheduled to meet again on Monday.
The nurses rightly pointed out in the statement that Tenet has recently reported another quarter of extremely high profits. They made $121 million in the second quarter of this year. After $97 million in the first quarter, it adds up to well over $200 million. Almost a quarter billion in profits while telling 800 nurses in Worcester Massachusetts that, no, they can’t hire enough nurses that every nurse can take care of four patients at a time, as opposed to 5 or 6 or who knows how many.
This is America, after all, and you can’t have the nurses’ and patients’ well-being getting in the way of the guys looking to finance their third yacht off a good stock bet on a hospital company during a global pandemic.
Saint Vincent’s announcement today is crass and evil but it’s also showing some cracks in the facade. It took almost half a year but they’re finally starting to show they’re hurting. Now, as they’re showing their hand a bit, a cohort of Federal legislators are stepping up to apply some added pressure. Mass. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, joined by Reps. Jim McGovern and Lori Trahan, are calling for a federal investigation into the way Tenet has used federal COVID relief funds. They claim the company has used funds “to enrich its executives and shareholders rather than meet the needs of its health care workers and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced in part by an ongoing nurses' strike in Massachusetts and other Tenet facilities across the nation,” per the MNA statement.
With the backing of the local delegation, the Mass Nurses Association is standing strong as hell. One of the more common picket signs is “If the nurses are out here, there’s something wrong in there.”
Today, Tenet showed there’s something very wrong indeed.
As always, if you liked this little post I’d ask that you consider throwing a few bucks my way so I can keep doing it. As an independent writer financed only by you, the reader, I have no obligation to fulfill a corporate media outlet’s notion of “objectivity” that flatly doesn’t exist. I can write about issues—especially labor issues—in a way that makes sense. I am under no expectation to dutifully report out a company’s bullshit line. I can call the bullshit when I see it.
In other labor news, there’s whispers over at the CSX intermodal train yard that a union-busting and layoff-inducing change may happen. The company may switch over to subcontracted labor, resulting in mass layoffs of the people with jobs and union support over there. Nick Wurst, a worker over there, is sending this letter to management and union representatives, with the signed support of many of his colleagues.
"We are members of TCU/IAM Local 1089. We work at the CSX Intermodal Terminal in Worcester, Massachusetts, which was taken into direct management from Parsec in May of 2019. Rumors are circulating about a possible contractor takeover. We’ve heard that our union is involved in the negotiations between CSXI and the potential contractor.
We’ve got serious, long-term problems at this yard: constant forced overtime, everyone working long shifts, not nearly enough time off, an unfair attendance point system, and low pay. All of these have contributed to massive understaffing and unsafe conditions on the job. Just over two years ago there were more than 50 workers running the ramp. Now we are down to only 11 direct CSXI Worcester employees, really 10 due to a serious work injury and about 5 visiting workers at any time, including from an outside contractor.
A contractor takeover could mean layoffs for at least a majority of us. There are no guarantees that we would be allowed to apply for jobs and given preference with the contractor. There are no guarantees that we’d keep our current pay or benefits or that enough additional workers would be hired to improve the low staffing. We have no details or input on the situation. Information about any negotiations our union is involved in is not being shared with us and we have no democratic say in what our union may be trying to negotiate.
We have reached out to the chairperson of our local union, who couldn't comment on the rumors and claimed to have been told not to comment. This seems to show that our union officials are aware of the negotiations, at least. This approach of not informing and not involving us as union members whose jobs are affected is wrong, and goes against basic union democracy. The whole point of a union is for union members to decide what they want to negotiate and fight for as part of getting better jobs, pay, benefits, and working conditions.
TCU/IAM officials need to immediately organize meetings to inform us and other TCU members about any negotiations around a takeover or a new contract, and to allow the members to have democratic control of how our union responds to CSX and any contractor. As TCU/IAM members, we demand, under CSXI or any contractor:
-Guaranteed jobs for all current CSXI employees
-Continued classification under the Railroad Retirement Board
-Better pay, benefits, and working conditions
-Immediate hiring of more workers for safe staffing levels"
CSX got a lot of help from the city and state in setting up that trainyard, and the promise of jobs was not a small part of making it happen. It behooves the city administration and our state leaders to get involved with this issue. To ignore it is a failure of the public trust.
Apropos of nothin’ I got ‘Olo Pizza last night for the first time and it’s a strong contender for best pizza in the city. I didn’t take a picture of it or anything cuz I was too busy shoving it in my pie hole, but may I suggest the meatball and ricotta or the bacon and fig jam. Wood-fired ‘za done right, baby.
Ok, enough for now. Cya~