Business & Tech

Brigham, nurses laud agreement that averts strike

More than 3,000 of the nurses at Brigham and Women’s had planned to walk off the job Monday.

Timothy Tai for The Boston Globe

More than 3,000 of the nurses at Brigham and Women’s had planned to walk off the job Monday.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the union representing 3,300 of its nurses said they reached tentative agreement on a new contract, averting what would have been the largest nurses strike in state history.

The compromise came early Sunday morning after 15 hours of negotiations, ending a long and bitter bargaining process between the Massachusetts Nurses Association and one of the city’s biggest teaching hospitals.

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Brigham, which had been canceling appointments and transferring patients to prepare for the threatened strike, said operations would soon return to normal. The one-day job action was scheduled to begin Monday morning, but Brigham officials had promised to lock out the union nurses for an additional four days while using temporary replacements.

“We’re very relieved,” said Kelly Morgan, a nurse and member of the bargaining committee. “We’re feeling very satisfied with the agreement we reached. It benefits our patients tremendously. It benefits our nurses tremendously. It was a long, hard-fought battle and we are so happy with it.”

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Brigham officials said Mayor Martin J. Walsh was instrumental in helping both sides reach a compromise during the past two days.

“I am very happy that both sides came back to the table and found resolution so the Brigham can continue to provide world-class care to its patients,” Walsh said in a statement. “Any interruption to patient care is too great to risk, and it was critically important to the hospital, workers and patients that a strike be avoided.”

Negotiators from the hospital and the union spent all day Friday and Saturday in talks, reaching a deal about 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

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“I’m very pleased that we’ve reached agreement and averted what would have been a very destructive strike,” said Dr. Ron M. Walls, Brigham’s chief operating officer.

Hospital officials said they were pleased the contract will run three years — the nurses had sought a shorter agreement — and stays within a reasonable “financial framework.”

Union officials lauded the deal for its stronger staffing policies and measures to keep nurses safe on the job, and for providing “fair” wages and health benefits.

Brigham nurses will receive 5 percent annual raises for their first 18 years on the job. The new agreement gives a 2.5 percent increase to nurses at the top of the pay scale. It also includes a 2 percent raise for all nurses over three years.

The tentative agreement must be approved by union members. A vote has not been scheduled.

The deal came after 23 negotiating sessions. Their contract talks began last September. Their relationship grew more acrimonious in recent weeks, leading the union to authorize a 24-hour strike. Union officials accused Brigham and its parent company, Partners HealthCare, of corporate greed and failing to respect nurses.

Hospital officials pointed to nurses’ pay — $106,00 a year on average — as proof that they value nurses. They said the union’s earlier demands for pay raises and health benefits were unreasonable, given the financial challenges facing Brigham and all hospitals.

The hospital and the union also disagreed on nurse staffing levels, particularly in one unit where patients recover from thoracic procedures.

Brigham had been preparing for a strike for several days. It canceled appointments and procedures, and transferred patients to other hospitals, trying to reduce operations to 60 percent of normal. This disrupted care for hundreds of patients, including several premature babies who need intensive care and were moved to other hospitals.

The 793-bed hospital had just 426 patients on Saturday, down from 570 patients the day before.

The hospital contracted with a staffing agency to hire about 700 temporary nurses to help care for patients during the planned walkout. The temp workers began arriving in Boston to undergo training and orientation over the past few days, but now that a deal has been reached, the temp nurses will not report to work at Brigham.

“We are reverting to full scale operations immediately,” Walls said. “All of our nurses will report for work as expected on Monday morning.”

The Brigham strike would have followed two other nursing strikes in Minnesota and California, which were all coordinated by the same national labor union, National Nurses United.

Brigham has never had a nurses strike. The union authorized strikes in 1996 and 2006, but nurses did not end up walking out.

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