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Nurses strike averted at Brigham and Women's Hospital

New agreement reached after after 10 months and 23 negotiating sessions, strike would have started Monday morning.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A one-day strike scheduled for Monday at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston that would have been the largest in Massachusetts history and the first in Boston in 30 years has been averted. The Massachusetts Nurses Association made the announcement Saturday, less than two days before the strike was scheduled to begin.

"Today we begin the healing process," said Elizabeth Nabel, MD, president of Brigham and Women's Health Care, speaking during a press conference on Monday.

According to the MNA, the 3,300 Brigham and Women's Hospital nurses they represent have reached a tentative agreement with the hospital that they say "protects safe patient care, enhances hospital security, successfully fights off attempts to implement non-union benefits for new nurses and includes a fair wage increase."

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On June 13, the nurses had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a one-day strike; the vote was heralded as the largest and most successful nurse strike vote in Massachusetts history. They had started their campaign publicly in May with a picket of more than 1,000 nurses and supporters.

"We are especially proud to have significantly improved security at the hospital for everyone,"  said Trish Powers, RN OR staff nurse and chair of the MNA BWH bargaining unit.  "Security was our top priority entering negotiations and we prevailed through hard-work, determination and the unity of 3,300 nurses."

[Also: Brigham and Women's Hospital nurses vote in favor of one-day strike]

The MNA claimed nurses were being assaulted at high rates throughout the hospital, and cited the shooting death of cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Michael J. Davidson there last year as major reasons why security was at the forefront of their agenda.

Some of the security measures that are part of the new agreement include: improved access control at the BWH main campus and the Shapiro building; signs at all hospital entrances notifying entrants that weapons are prohibited and video surveillance is in effect; new weapons and ankle bracelet policies; Additional panic alarms installed, with training for staff and regular testing; staff training in areas such as personal safety, self-defense, security awareness, and active shooter scenarios; "reasonable" medical attention and/or psychological care for nurses affected by workplace violence.

In terms of staffing demands, Brigham agreed to restore nurse staffing levels to what they were as of December 2015, "with flexibility depending on patient volume, acuity and other factors", MNA said. This counters a staffing reduction made earlier in 2016.

The hospital also agreed that mobile alarm devices planned for the neonatal intensive care unit and other units as well would only be put to use with the agreement of MNA/Brigham nurses, who had voiced significant concerns including potentially dangerous delays in patient care due to alarms bouncing between nurses, the MNA said.

Brigham nixed flex insurance and a benefits policy providing for less days off than the traditional system. MNA said flex insurance was not subject to collective bargaining and resulted in part-time nurses getting hit with much larger premiums, and the two policies would have undermined the union.

[Also: Brigham and Women's doctor under fire over alleged involvement in NFL's grant withdrawal]

Finally, the new agreement gives a 2 percent across-the-board wage increase for every MNA/Brigham nurse and 2.5 percent to a new top step for nurses currently at the top of the salary scale. Both increases are over three years.

"We are extremely pleased that we have reached a tentative agreement with the MNA and that the strike notice has been rescinded," Nabel said in a released statement. "We are most grateful for the support of the many elected officials and community leaders who provided guidance. This agreement would not have been reached without the tremendous commitment of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and our entire Brigham family is grateful for his intervention."

The final agreement allows the hospital to remain within the financial objectives it had established, and to achieve a three-year agreement, the hospital said in a statement.

The three-year contract, if ratified by the full MNA/Brigham nurse membership, will expire Sept. 30, 2018. Bargaining included the participation of a federal mediator. A vote of the full membership has yet to be scheduled.

"The last few weeks have been difficult for everyone involved, and this news will enable us to move forward together as a community and continue to provide the superb care to our patients that the Brigham is known for. We will work with our clinical and administrative leaders to resume normal operations immediately," Nabel said.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn