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The last nurses strike in Boston

The exterior of Carney Hospital.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The exterior of Carney Hospital.

The nurses strike at Tufts Medical Center on Wednesday was the first walkout by Boston nurses in more than three decades.

On May 5, 1986, registered nurses at Carney Hospital in Dorchester went on strike, vowing to remain off the job until their demands for more pay, better benefits, and duty changes were met. It was the first time in 123 years that the Catholic hospital went on strike.

Here is a look at that strike, which lasted for five weeks, as seen through the Globe coverage at the time.


The walkout began at 7 a.m. when about 200 nurses began marching in front of the hospital. Carrying signs that said “More Pay for Nurses” and “If Carney Is a Family, You’re Better Off an Orphan,” the nurses asked motorists to show their support by beeping car horns and passed out fact sheets to curious pedestrians.

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At the time, the Carney had a maximum patient load of 416. To prepare for the strike, the hospital reduced its number of patients from 380 to 120 and limited emergency care to patients with minor injuries.

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association negotiating team sought a two-year contract with annual 6 percent salary increases, and changes in duties and scheduling.

Nurses also sought four weeks of vacation after five years on the job, increases in differential pay for nurses who work evenings or weekends from 80 cents to 95 cents and from $1 to $1.15 for those assigned to the night shift, and the addition of Martin Luther King Day as a holiday with pay.

At the time, strikers said their hourly pay rates, which ranged from $9.75 to $14.61, were lower than those of other Greater Boston hospitals. Nurses eventually agreed to a three-year contract, with raises of 5.5 percent per year. Salaries were estimated to range from $11.41 to $17.09 an hour by November 1987.


The contract, ratified by nurses in June 1986, included a 17 percent pay increase over three years, retroactive to the previous November, and a plan to relieve nurses from non-nursing tasks.

“We’re very pleased,” said Jane Connelly, head of the nurses bargaining unit, as someone handed her a cup of champagne.


Kiana Cole can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @kianamcole