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Tufts nurses set to strike Wednesday after talks between union, hospital break down

Negotiators from Tufts Medical Center (pictured) and the Massachusetts Nurses Association were negotiating Tuesday.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Negotiators from Tufts Medical Center (pictured) and the Massachusetts Nurses Association were negotiating Tuesday.

More than 1,200 nurses at Tufts Medical Center are set to go on strike Wednesday morning after a last-ditch effort to reach a contract deal with hospital officials failed.

Both sides spent hours negotiating Tuesday but couldn’t reach a compromise. The Massachusetts Nurses Association said its members would go on strike at 7 a.m. Wednesday. It will be the first strike at a Boston hospital in more than 30 years.

The union is planning a one-day walkout, but the hospital plans to keep striking nurses out for four additional days while using replacement workers.

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“We came to the table today hoping to reach an agreement, but Tufts management is determined to force a strike and a subsequent lockout of our nurses,” Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, a nurse and cochairwoman of the union’s bargaining team, said in a statement Tuesday night at about 8:30. “This decision really shows administration’s lack of respect for its nurses and for the safety our patients.”

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Tufts Medical Center spokeswoman Brooke Hynes said the hospital was extremely disappointed in the union’s decision to walk out.

“The union had a choice to support patient care and they chose to strike,” she said. “They came to the table today with a recycled plan that is costly to the medical center and risky to our nurses.”

Representatives from the hospital and the nurses union have held more than 30 meetings since April 2016 to negotiate a new contract. They met again Tuesday at a federal mediator’s office in downtown Boston.

In a previous labor dispute, in 2011, Tufts officials and the nurses union reached a deal just hours before a strike was scheduled to begin.

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On Tuesday, the two sides remained at odds about one key issue: retirement benefits. The hospital wants nurses who still have pensions to move into defined-contribution plans, similar to 401(k)s, which would be less expensive for the hospital to maintain. But the union has fought to keep pensions.

The union on Tuesday asked the hospital to consider a proposal that would allow Tufts to keep pensions and save money, union spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said.

To prepare for a strike, Tufts is spending at least $6 million to hire about 320 replacement nurses. Hospital officials say they will operate as usual. They have not canceled appointments or transferred patients.

About 300 patients were at Tufts on Tuesday. The teaching hospital treats adults and children with serious and complex conditions, including cancer, heart disease, trauma, and more.

“We’re ready to provide the very best care . . . like we do every day,” Dr. Michael Wagner, the hospital’s chief executive, said earlier this week.

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Nurses planned to picket outside the hospital, located at 800 Washington St., in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, beginning early Wednesday morning. Hospital officials were expecting a crowd of hundreds and said they ramped up security to work during the walkout. About 100 public safety officers, including police and private security, were scheduled to be on site.

“We will have adequate resources in place,” said Officer Stephen McNulty, a spokesman for Boston Police.

Tufts officials said all appointments and surgeries will continue as scheduled, unless they tell patients otherwise. They asked patients to allow extra time to get to their appointments as some hospital entrances will be closed.

The union, meanwhile, said nurses would begin demonstrating outside the hospital at 7 a.m. and continue for 24 hours. Rallies are planned during the day.

Union officials said they will try to reenter the hospital on Thursday morning. If the hospital keeps union nurses out — as promised — the union plans to continue picketing.

Hospital officials say they will use temp nurses for five days.

Striking nurses would be allowed back at work on Monday.

The two sides have long disagreed on nurses’ retirement benefits.

The union opposes Tufts’ plan to move 341 nurses from pension plans to defined-contribution retirement plans.

The hospital says those nurses would maintain their benefits, but the union says the change would require nurses to pay more of their own money toward retirement.

Union officials want the hospital to join a multi-employer pension plan that they say would save the hospital money.

But Tufts executives say that kind of plan would be too risky, because it would require them to carry the pension risk of other employers.

Tufts and its nurses also disagree on wages and staffing levels.

Their dispute is similar to one that has played out at other hospitals, including at Brigham and Women’s Hospital last year.

The union and Brigham, a large teaching hospital owned by Partners HealthCare, reached a contract agreement just a day before a planned strike of 3,300 nurses.

A deal was ultimately reached with the help of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said at the time that he was asked to get involved to help settle the conflict.

In the Tufts dispute, Walsh has been in touch with hospital and union officials, but he has not been involved in the talks.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.