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"They shouldn't be in health care but they are"
Words from a longtime St. V's nurse
Well, this week in the ongoing horror that is the Saint Vincent Hospital nurses’ strike is the new wrinkle that some of the striking nurses may not have jobs to return to because the hospital filled their positions with permanent replacements. The hospital announced last week about 15 percent of the striking nurses (around 100 or so) won’t have a job if and when the strike is resolved.
St. Vincent staff was yet again quoted in a Telegram article last week saying some more ghoulishly anti-union stuff about why that is.
"The MNA has now demanded we forcibly remove some of these individuals from their current jobs, many of whom are MNA members who bravely chose to follow their oath, cross the picket line, and have been critical to supporting access to care, especially during a pandemic," Weiss said.
Weiss is some PR person employed by Tenet, the for-profit healthcare company that owns St. Vincent as well as 60 other hospitals across the country. Where exactly, Miss Weiss, does it say in the Hippocratic Oath that crossing a picket line intended to make a hospital safer for patients and employees is brave? In what incredibly dishonest, bad faith interpretation of the oath do you pull that out?
Anyway, I caught up with a real nurse who has really worked at St. Vincent Hospital for 39 freakin’ years to see how she felt about this whole “losing your job to permanent scabs” thing, and she was far less than pleased. Her name is Diane Waters, she works in the same-day surgery unit, and she’s been through both of the nurses’ strikes at St. Vincent. She is also personally in danger of losing her position to a permanent scab, though it’s not quite a done deal.
Before I roll the proverbial tape, a little context: Tenet last week had an opportunity to resolve the strike and they didn’t, despite federal mediators and everything. They walked away from negotiations and they announced that they’d be hiring permanent replacement nurses. The union was looking for a “back-to-work” clause in the contract that would ensure longtime (10-year-plus) nurses would have their jobs back. The company didn’t want to honor that. They’re quoted in the Telegram saying that such an agreement would be “unfair” to the scabs they hired.
Gotta think about the scabs in times like these!
Honestly, Tenet’s anti-union position and rhetoric are so cartoonishly evil that it’s comical. But this interview you’re about to read is not comical. Anything but.
Bill: So your position had been filled by like, a permanent replacement as I understand it?
Diane: Yes. Okay. Actually most of my department is filled. My position is filled.
Bill: How did you find out about that?
D: Picketing on Monday, and then, you know, we had a meeting because they were negotiating this week, and one of the things was the back to work agreement was actually the big thing.
And they ended up getting the numbers from the hospital, but they did say that a lot of the replacement positions were in smaller units, generally unaffected by the staffing issues. So, you know, I work in same-day surgery, which is really a sweet gig in the hospital. You really, honestly, the last two nurses that came into our department, because a couple people have retired, they have 35 years’ seniority. So we are all very senior. Because, you know, it's a lot of 40-hour positions. And we don't work weekends, we don't work holidays.
So it was really like... you think, what is going on? You know? It's like, oh, you're kidding me. But if you think about it, it's realistic that those positions would be filled?
Bill: Well, sure. And in the context of a hospital administration that's refusing to capitulate at all to the demands of the Mass. Nurses Association. Like, yeah, those would be the first ones to be filled.
D: Exactly. Any day position. Certainly people transferred from the jobs they were in. We had five nurses do that. And then, you know, I guess the rest are new hires, which, you know, sucks.
Bill: Right. But I mean, in the event that the company and the union settle on a new contract. That means that, even though a new contract is settled, you're out of the job still?
D: It depends on what they negotiate I think on the “back-to-work” agreement, which again is in progress. So we have to wait and see. Yeah, everyone who's affected, you know, really got to wait and see. And they really, the bargaining unit, you know, the other nurses and the MNA has always been clear in that they say, you know, 'We go out as one, we go back as one.' You know, you go back to your same job, your same hours, everything. But this is Tenet, so I'm not sure what's gonna happen.
D: That's all I have to say about that. They're awful.
B: I've made no bones about how I feel about this company in my writing.
D: I've read a few, yeah I have. I hate them just a little more than you. We'll say that.
B: So I want to circle back a little bit to this being sort of a desirable job in terms of being a nurse. You have 39 years’ seniority, was it?
D: Yeah. 38, yeah, technically, this is in my 39th year. Yeah.
B: Right, and that's how unions work is the the longer you stick in, the better of a gig you can get. Right? That's kind of like, that's kind of like the idea, right? Yeah. So to have this, like, you know, pretty tight, relatively easy gig at the hospital get filled by someone who's probably like, right out of nursing school, no union card. How does that feel?
D: Well I equate that with the travelers, the scabs, that came in and fulfilled contracts during the strike. So to me it's just you know, you're just whoring for a paycheck. But really, that's what it is. I mean, you'll go anywhere, and you're going to take someone's job. You know, what kind of character do you have? I'm trying to hold my tongue, but really..
B: I understand, And maybe if I could just get you... I mean I know you're trying to hold your tongue but I'm going to ask this question. So you've worked for Tenet basically as long as they've owned the hospital. How do you feel about their management style and the way they run the hospital?
D: They've always been... even during the first strike they were the owners then. They've always been.. The bottom line is always money. Your equipment is older, your supplies are shitty because they cost less. Things just get cheaper and cheaper so they can make their staff prices go up. They shouldn't be in healthcare but they are. All their decisions are financially based, so, I mean, why are you in this business? Because it's profitable. So I hate them. You know? I hate them. Everyone gets sick at some point, but it doesn't touch them. And I honestly feel for Carolyn Jackson this is a personal issue. And I'm not alone in that. But again, my own opinion. You know she's really like, 'How dare you not do what I say. I'm the CEO, you're a lowly hourly employee. Even if you're skilled, it doesn't matter.' I feel the physicians look at us the same way. Especially after that article published by the four or five senior physicians and they wanted to video conference with Baker and blah blah blah. I'm not asking for anyone else to solve this strike but us. It's our strike. Some support, especially if you bring a lot of money into the building, interventional physicians and cardiologists, you could have assisted us. It's always, always, always the money.
But really I fucking hate them. What is there to like? No really, what is there to like? I hate them and actually we really all do. It's not just what they are. It's how they treat you. 'Oh, you want this? Oh, too bad. I'm not giving it to you.'
It's not surprising. It's expected. But it's not moral in this type of business. You want to build cars, go ahead. You know, nothing against that industry, this is just a different industry. But it doesn't matter. It's just the bottom line.
She stripped our hospital bare so she would make a big profit in 2019. She didn't fill positions. This was bound to happen, and so it did. I don't think anyone expected it to go this long, but that tells you the level of hardball they've played this whole time.
B: You said you were involved with the first strike, correct? In 2000?
B: I think it's an interesting perspective to hear from you personally what some differences are between this strike and that one.
D: I think with the first strike it was the inability to obtain the first contract. And then, it was really the one issue was mandatory overtime. But that's parallel to safe staffing. I think that obviously with all the money they've made, the federal money they got from the pandemic and their continued profitability, that you know, 21 years later, they're just so big and so powerful, I don't think they're beatable, unfortunately. I hope they are, because everything's riding on that, but really.
B: They've gotten so much more powerful since then.
D: So much more powerful because they're so wealthy.
B: They can afford to ride the strike for a while.
D: They sold us for a few years because there was a Medicare scandal... they're known for that... and then bought us back a few years ago. So all of us that were there knew. We were like oh, shit. How bad is this going to be?
B: Feel that I've been in a similar position in journalism before. But, I just want to clarify. The first strike wasn't about safe staffing. It was about the hospital requiring mandatory overtime?
D: Yes, after negotiating for two years. And the circumstances were different. We were moving from one building to another, so they really couldn't get the hospital up and running because they didn't have the availability. They had scabs that were coming over and stuff but they were fairly slow. When we got back in, after the 49 days, it was a tough year. It was really just balls to the wall.
This strike is so much more complicated. It's not just one issue. It's the ratios, but there's also things associated with the ratios. But that's really more of a question for the negotiating committee members.
B: Right, but the spirit, as I understand it, of having safe patient ratios and the spirit of not having forced overtime, is sort of the same thing. You don't want nurses working so much that they're putting patients in danger by slipping up and burning out and being bad at their jobs.
D: Sure. See, the mandatory overtime, their big thing was the flex. But when you have a lot of open ancillary positions, you're doing that job as well. I've spoken... you know you talk on the line, and those are some of the things the girls on the floor had discussed. It's a little different but in the same vein for sure.
B: That makes sense to me.
D: Actual patient care, you're doing everything from washing down equipment to discharging patients because someone needs to come up from the ER because you don't have an aide... It's certainly... it's not as straightforward as the mandatory overtime issue.
B: So the strike ends and you don't have a job to go back to... what do you do in that situation?
D: I guess my options are... I don't know... If I want to stay employed there I'll have to look at what open positions are available. That's my assumption. Since it hasn't been done yet, everything's not settled. We haven't ratified the contract.
But you know how unions work, you go by the most senior person, then it goes down the line. I don't know. Some of the people in my department. I'm 4th from the top. There's 27 of us. 21 girls stayed back. Some crossed this week. There's 23 of us out. One girl has been there 33 years. What’s she going to do? She's the most senior in the unit. You see a lot of 30-hour in the unit. I'm not sure. I don’t know.
I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know.
B: That's awfully stressful.
D: Yeah it's been a bad week. Not a lot of sleeping this week. Keep a box of tissues nearby and your voice starts to crack and then you stop talking. We'll see. We'll see how it goes with negotiations. It's stressful, no doubt about it. We're all feeling the same thing.
We’re all feeling the same thing indeed. Here’s to hoping the nurses’ strike ends soon and the nurses get everything they want and Tenet goes belly up, teehee.
The big news today is School Committee candidate Jermoh Kamara being the first to come out and say she thinks the Worcester Public Schools needs a new superintendent. All hail Jermoh! It was a brave campaign move and her position is both well articulated and necessary. New leadership is required, she says, because the Worcester Public Schools needs someone at the helm who understands racial equity and how to achieve it. In a Telegram article outlining Kamara’s position, Binienda is quoted saying some dastardly things about Kamara’s statement. She literally lays bare why we so badly need new leadership. She tries to claim that Kamara was “coached” into making her decision.
Superintendent Maureen Binienda suggested that Kamara had been coached to call for such action, saying she and Kamara had a long positive relationship extending to Kamara's time as a South High student.
"It's not like her to come out and say a statement like that unless coached to say a statement like that... I think I was very instrumental in Jermoh being successful in her development, I gave her a ride to school every day..." Binienda said Tuesday evening. "My feeling is she probably got coached into this particular statement that she was saying."
In this statement, Binienda removes any agency from Kamara as a free-willed and thinking human being. Kamara simply couldn’t think up something like this by herself she says in so many words. It was someone else. She’s being coerced into saying it. She doesn’t mean it.
How absolutely insulting.
It also speaks to the sort of patronizing attitude Binienda has toward Worcester Public Schools students. You’ll hear often from her and her supporters that she’s done “so much” for “inner city” kids. Here Binienda puts that mentality on full display for everyone to read. How could Kamara make such a decision when I used to give her rides to school? Doesn’t she understand what she owes me? Doesn’t she understand she’d be nothing without me? Binienda might as well be on a career-long missionary trip the way she talks about her students—the way she tacitly others them and takes credit for anything they do. Surely it couldn’t be that they’re smart and talented and capable of greatness. No, it’s because I made them. The racism and classism baked into that mentality ripples out into every decision Binienda and the people she surrounds herself with make. It’s why she can’t see the racial disparities in outcomes and discipline in the Worcester Public Schools, and it’s why her administration is incapable of rectifying them. The first part of fixing a problem is acknowledging there is one. She has not done that.
Someone not engaged in a career-long missionary trip might understand and respect that while she had a hand in this woman’s development, Kamara is her own woman, capable of making her own assessments and capable of articulating her own opinions. She might respect that she had a part in developing a true independent leader. But she doesn’t. She sees this as a slight. She doesn’t understand or won’t understand that what Kamara is saying has merit. She scratched Kamara’s back, and expects a back scratch in return. That is the political culture that Binienda comes from. It’s not about leadership. It’s not about what’s best. It’s about influence, favors and maintaining power.
Binienda needs to go.
Highly suggest Tim O’Neil’s twitter thread on the matter, by the way. Very well put.
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In lighter news I went to Crompton Park last night to see a bunch of Worcester kids get in on the milk crate challenge that’s sweeping the nation. It was a laugh riot and I loved every minute of it. I was going to try but I am a coward and I wasn’t drunk enough.
There were some hilarious falls to be sure, but also some real athletic greatness. I hope they keep doing this all the time.
That’s all for now folks. I’m going camping this weekend and I will be entirely unavailable until Sunday night. Have a good weekend y’all!!