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3 years after bitter fight, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and nurses union approve new contract

The new contract is retroactive to last October and includes a 12 percent raise over two years for nurses in their first 19 years on the job, and a 4.5 percent increase for nurses at the top of the wage scale.
The new contract is retroactive to last October and includes a 12 percent raise over two years for nurses in their first 19 years on the job, and a 4.5 percent increase for nurses at the top of the wage scale. (Globe Photo/File 2016)

Without fanfare or drama, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the union representing its more than 3,400 nurses quietly reached a two-year contract deal this week.

The agreement represents a tectonic shift from the last round of contract negotiations between the Brigham and the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Three years ago, their relationship broke down as talks became increasingly bitter. Nurses accused the hospital of putting profits ahead of patient care, and they planned a one-day strike.

Hospital officials planned to lock out the striking nurses for four additional days. To prepare, they hired temporary replacement nurses and transferred hundreds of patients — including fragile premature babies — to other facilities.

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The two sides ultimately reached a contract deal to avoid the strike — which would have been the largest walkout of nurses in state history — the day before it was set to begin. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and other high-profile politicians intervened to help reach a settlement.

Since then, the nurses union has continued to clash with hospital executives. It carried out a strike at Tufts Medical Center in 2017. And last year, it pushed a controversial ballot question to regulate nurse staffing levels in hospitals. Voters rejected the measure in November by a wide margin.

All this was on Claire O’Connell’s mind as she and other nurses began negotiating their new contract with the Brigham several months ago. But this time, the talks were very different.

“With this negotiating team for the hospital, it was not contentious at all,” said O’Connell, who works in post-anesthesia care and sits on the union’s bargaining committee. “The tone from the beginning this time was: ‘We want to work with each other.’ ”

The new contract is retroactive to last October and expires Sept. 30, 2020. It includes a 12 percent raise over two years for nurses in their first 19 years on the job, and a 4.5 percent increase for nurses at the top of the wage scale. The contract maintains pensions and other benefits.

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Union officials credited the Brigham’s new chief nursing officer, Madelyn Pearson, for bringing a cooperative spirit to the discussions. Pearson joined the Brigham in 2017 from Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Memories of the almost-strike in 2016 seemed to motivate both the hospital and the union to avoid another bitter dispute.

Brigham officials said the new contract recognizes the important contributions of nurses.

“The process of negotiations was collaborative and respectful as the hospital and the MNA worked to achieve our mutual goal: ensuring that nurses have a safe, supportive environment in which to provide the best care for patients,” the hospital said in a statement.

The Brigham is part of the state’s most dominant health system, Partners HealthCare.

Union representatives said Brigham nurses overwhelmingly approved the new contract in a ratification vote that concluded Wednesday night. They did not release the vote count.


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