NORTH PROVIDENCE — Members of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5110 voted late Thursday night to ratify a three-year contract with Prospect CharterCARE, which owns and operates Our Lady of Fatima Hospital.
A union strike that was scheduled for next week was canceled due to the new contract agreement, which union president Laura McQuesten called “historic.”
The agreement, she said, “provides our nurses with job security, wage increases, a cost of living adjustment, a freeze on health insurance costs until 2024, student debt relief for new nurses, and most importantly, a first-of-its kind in Rhode Island staffing grid.”
She said the new staffing grid will “ensure the safety of patients and nurses” through a patient to nurse ratio of roughly five-to-one, other than in specialty units like the intensive care unit, where it’s closer to two-to-one or one-to-one.
The contract’s 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment each year also has a 4 percent, on average, step increase for those nurses who are in the step program, which totals to a 7 percent increase annually — a 21 percent increase over the three-year contract for those nurses in the system.
McQuesten and fellow union members held a picket for several hours in late July when they demanded a fair contract. At the time, they claimed management had refused to negotiate a contract with “sufficient protections for hospital patients and the front-line nurses and health professionals who care for them.”
The union and for-profit Prospect CharterCARE had been negotiating a new contract since early April 2021. Since the parent company, which also owns and operates Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, took over operations in 2014, McQuesten told the Globe in July that corporate executives had “consistently put greed and profits ahead of patient care.”
One of the biggest issues at the time, McQuesten had said, was that the hospital was unable to retain new nurses because of how unattractive the conditions were.
On Thursday, McQuesten said this new contract will help “retain and attract qualified nurses today and into the future.” The college relief program is completely new, according to union spokesman Brad Dufault. He said the program offers $10,000 per year over three years, totally $30,000 in college debt payments for new nurses and those who were hired within the six months before the ratification vote.
“After one of the most difficult years we have ever experienced as nurses – working on the frontlines during a worldwide health crisis – our members are very pleased to be working under a contract that gives us the respect and dignity we deserve,” she said.”
CharterCARE Health Partners chief executive Jeffrey Liebman had released a statement on the new agreement ahead of the vote, and said he was pleased to have reached an agreement that recognized the “incredible work and value” the nurses provide the patients and that was “fair” to the hospital.
“The last 18 months, during which our hospitals treated the second-most COVID patients of any hospital in our state, has again proven the critical, courageous and unselfish role our nurses play in the Rhode Island health care system,” said Liebman.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.