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Rhode Island nurses begin three-day strike for better wages and staffing

Following in the footsteps of nurses in Vermont and Michigan, nurses in Rhode Island are pushing for much-needed support.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

Nurses and health care workers in Providence, Rhode Island are set to go on strike at 3 p.m. on Monday to demand better wages and staffing levels. While the roughly 2,400 unionized workers at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital have protested in the past, they have never gone on strike, according to local ABC affiliate WLNE. The strike will last three days.

The hospital facilities are operated by Rhode Island-based Lifespan Corporation, which met with the nurses union, United Nurses & Allied Professionals Local 5098, Monday morning for one last discussion before the strike. Nurses have said that their wages are not on par with other hospitals. They also claim that the staffing levels need to be higher to serve the number of patients, citing high staff turnover.

Earlier this month, the union voted to reject the three-year contract proposal before authorizing the strike. The nurses union said that no matter what happens during their last meeting, they will be back to work on Friday. But Lifespan said because the contract for replacement nurses requires that they work four days, unionized nurses will not be able to return until Friday at 3 p.m., despite it being a three-day strike, according to Providence Journal.

After the union gave notice of a strike, Lifespan said it took $10 million out of its contract offer with the nurses to hire replacement workers, Rhode Island Radio reported. Last week, the union said Lifespan is using “bullying tactics” to force workers to accept the latest contract offer.

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Sherry Tomasso, a nurse, told WLNE, “It’s something that we have to do. We don’t want to do it. Lifespan created this nightmare and they have the means to put it to a halt.”

Frank Sims, president of the nurses union and a registered nurse, told Providence Journal about the strike, “Our members took up their professions because they wanted to help and care for people, and they remain among the best-trained and most-dedicated health workers in our state. But their dedication has only been met by derision, as Lifespan fails to value and properly support the life-saving work our members perform every day. That must change.”

Nurses throughout the country are experiencing similarly difficult negotiations processes this summer, as they fight for many of the same issues, such as better pay and benefits, as well as and decent staffing levels so that they aren’t overwhelmed with patients.

University of Vermont Medical Centre’s 1,800 unionized nurses went on strike for a few days this month. Vermont nurses were also concerned about understaffing and asked for a 24 percent increase in salaries over the course of three years. The two sides still hold major disagreements over pay.

Nurses at McLaren Lapeer Region hospital in Michigan voted to authorize a strike this month and, after rejecting the latest deal last week, the union is still considering what to do next, including the possibility of a strike. They want a higher nurse-to-patient ratio and higher pay.

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On July 14, University of Michigan’s unionized nurses held an informational picket, where 1,200 nurses gathered. The nurses’ last collective bargaining agreement expired and, after 90 says of negotiation, their employer still hasn’t moved on issues, such as signing an agreement to keep staffing levels at their current level or keeping nurses’ retirement benefits intact. Soon after, the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council (UMPNC) filed a charge against the University of Michigan with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. UMPNC said some managers would not allow nurses to wear union shirts. The union said that nurses tried to wear different shirts with slightly different slogans but were told they couldn’t wear those shirts either.

“This is union-busting, plain and simple. Our contract does not prohibit us from wearing red t-shirts or buttons or any insignia with the union logo or message. This is nothing more than intimidation and discrimination on the part of the management to weaken our collective power,” said Ted McTaggart, UMPNC secretary in a statement provided to the Michigan Nurses Association.