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Oh the lengths they'll go
On St. Vincent's craven threat to hire permanent replacement nurses
So Tenet, the company that owns Saint Vincent Hospital, announced today that they’re going to start hiring permanent replacement nurses. The announcement comes after they made their “last, final offer” to the striking nurses and the offer was the same as all the other offers they’ve made, as in it’s not coming close to meeting the nurses’ very reasonable demands.
This announcement is a threat, it’s likely a bluff, and it’s another attempt to win a public relations battle they are simply not going to win.
The hospital’s CEO, Carolyn Jackson, is quoted in the Worcester Business Journal openly celebrating nurses who crossed the picket line as the hospital’s PR team continues its craven attempt to demonize the nurses who dared to ask for a safer workplace for themselves and their patients.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation for all caregivers, especially the Saint Vincent nurses who put our patients first by crossing the MNA’s picket line, for their courage and resilience.”
That’s what she said in a statement that the hospital willingly released to the public. It wasn’t an offhand comment or a slipup that a reporter caught. They put it out there. Crossing the picket line, she says, is an act of courage and resilience. Something those nurses out there striking for a better hospital for the community would know nothing about.
The gall of this woman to say that the striking nurses aren’t “putting patients first” when she works for a company that has tripled its share price during the course of a deadly global pandemic. The gall of this woman to say that they’re not “putting patients first” when the hospital is cutting back beds, services and infrastructure investments. The gall of this woman to tacitly posit that the hospital itself puts patients first when all the available evidence indicates otherwise. Indicates that the shareholder is more important than any particular patient. This is a for-profit company after all, and a publicly traded one at that. Its main fiduciary responsibility is to the people looking at whether the ticker line is going up or down. The 60 hospitals it owns are the product. The patients are the product. It’s warped and evil that for-profit hospitals even exist, so it tracks that this for-profit hospital would tell a few hundred nurses to go fuck themselves for months at a time while raking in insane quarterly profits and try to make it seem like it’s the nurses’ fault.
It bears repeating over and over and over that what the nurses are asking for is not outlandish nor is it unreasonable. They want it in writing that they only have to take care of four patients at any given time. Taking care of any more patients than that spreads nurses too thin. Patients don’t get the care they deserve and nurses burn out at a clip. Hospital management that considers patient care its main responsibility might recognize this problem and rectify it without the need for union pressure, let alone a strike. At St. Vincent, management not only refuses to acknowledge it, but they’ve sunk more than $100 million into the effort to not acknowledge it. Between police details and busing in replacement nurses and waging a PR war against the nurses, the hospital has spent enough money to hire thousands of nurses. So what’s the calculus there? Why not capitulate to the nurses’ reasonable demand when it’s costing you so much money to fight it? The easiest explanation is that Tenet is making an example of the St. Vincent nurses. They need to quell this rebellion lest the peasants in the other fiefdoms start getting crazy ideas.
It’s disappointing that this strike isn’t getting a whole lot of national attention. They’ve been on strike for almost half a year now. It’s the longest nurses strike in a decade. But the farthest this story seems to travel is the local NPR affiliate and the Boston Globe. The strike hit the 150-day mark last week. That’s a long, long time to be on the picket line and out of the job. And what these nurses are fighting for is righteous. It’s righteous for them and it’s righteous for the patients. It’s a crime how far St. Vincent has gone to fight these demands. I wish Tenet nothing but the worst as a company. It is obviously a company devoid of moral compass, and no amount of shaming will do any good. But what would do some good is if there was, say, a big New York Times story about this strike and Tenet’s stock took a little dip. Bet they’d come back to the table right quick if that were the case.
So what we’re waiting on now is word from a federal mediator that was at the most recent round of failed negotiations, and we’re waiting to see if Tenet’s threat to hire permanent replacements is a bluff. The MNA seems to think so. Here’s what spokesman David Schildmeier had to say about it.
“We don’t believe Tenet’s claim regarding their hiring of replacement nurses, as this is just another in a series of cynical and reprehensible ploys by this multi-billion dollar corporation to intimidate the nurses, instead of engaging in a good faith negotiation with the nurses, as was recommended last week, to provide the staffing levels the nurses to need to protect their patients to end this strike.”
Something to keep an eye on in the days and weeks ahead. Like the service cuts I wrote about last week, this is another example of St. Vincent stepping up public pressure and threats—more erratic ones at that. They’re bleeding money and they’re scrambling, and that’s what any good strike seeks to accomplish. Bring the company to its knees.
Here’s to the St. Vincent nurses for standing strong. You’re winning the moral argument. People are behind you. The company is getting frustrated. The strike is working.
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There’s a City Council meeting tomorrow night and the agenda is pretty light honestly but there are a few interesting things.
The Council is going to vote on an ordinance to ban Jet Skis and other personal watercraft from Indian Lake. I don’t have an opinion on this one really. Families complain that the jet skis are getting out of control, but on the other hand, Jet Skis are fun as hell—you ever rode one of those things? I’m willing to bet the Council approves the ban. The homeowners get what the homeowners want.
There’s also an updated look at the way the City Manager’s Office wants to spend the $110 million it’s getting in COVID relief. Here’s the full document on that. This is all sort of wonky and difficult to explain and don’t let any nerd try and tell you otherwise. What you want to watch for here is how the city decides to divide up the pie. The budget decisions a City Hall makes very much reflect who it cares about.
You’ll notice that the biggest chunk of this pie is going toward “remote technology enhancements.” Of that $28 million, $12 million is going toward a study to look at how to improve broadband access and speed in the city… which, what are you going to study, really? Charter has a monopoly over Internet in Worcester and Charter fucking sucks. What’s a study gonna do? Sounds like we’re just chucking some money at consultants if you ask me. Might as well burn it. The remaining amount of that $28 million seems to be going toward a new cloud-based employee management system for the Human Resources Department.
The second largest piece of the pie, at $21 million, is water and sewer improvements. The City Manager’s Office in this document I’m going off doesn’t even make the case that this is related to COVID in any way; they just say “as ARPA guidance continues to evolve, a clear allowance is an investment in water and sewer infrastructure.” Translation: we’re using this money this way because we’re allowed to. Next question.
The third largest piece of the pie, at $15 million, is going toward “revenue recovery,” which is a conveniently diffuse term isn’t it? “In the City’s case, this relates to reduced local revenues such as permit fees, hotel/meals taxes, and motor vehicle excises as well as the impact on closures of facilities such as the convention center and the Off Street Parking Board.” I asked the city spokesman for a more comprehensive breakdown of what that all means because well… you know… something about devils and details and notable city-owned facilities. Will share if I find anything worthwhile.
Keep in mind that this is money coming from something called the “American Rescue Plan” and the stated intention on the White House website is “delivering direct relief to the American people, rescuing the American economy, and starting to beat the virus.” (Side note: “starting to beat the virus” is pretty clunky copy for the White House, isn’t it?). Of these funds, which are intended to bring “direct relief to the American people,” Worcester is allocating $64 million to holes in the budget and projects it’s been meaning to get to but hasn’t had the money. That’s well over half of the total pie. This stuff is dry, wonky, and boring. But consider how an administration that values and recognizes, say, the city’s housing crisis might look at this pie a little differently.
There’s only $12.5 million allocated to housing, which seems awfully small when you put it next to the $28 million allocated to IT for new software. Some of this money is going to go to the Worcester Housing Authority for “public housing infrastructure and new unit development.” Some is going toward the city’s lead remediation program, and a teeny little bit is going toward the city’s new Affordable Housing Trust. Housing activists complain that this is a teeny tiny investment in a massive problem, and I’m inclined to agree. They want to see 20 percent of ARPA funds be invested in housing, which would be about $20-22 million. The manager’s plan is very thin on details here, and it seems like not a whole lot of it is directly going toward creating new affordable units, which is what we actually need.
The kicker here is that $10 million, less than a tenth of the money, is going toward “community-determined priorities.” In an ideal world, uh, 100 percent of this money would be spent determined by what the community wants it spent on. There will be three community meetings coming up to determine what that money should be spent on. This is a response to Councilor Khrystian King holding up approval for this plan for more community involvement in the decision making process. To appease him, City Manager Ed Augustus is allowing the community to choose how just a sliver of this pie is gonna get used.
That’s Worcester, baby. We love to see it.
Also I have a biiiiiig box of t-shirts I am going to be mailing out/delivering in the next couple days. Stay tuned!