Metro

Tufts Medical Center nurses return to work after lockout

Tufts nurse Cathy Murray gaved a thumbs up as she and other nurses head back to work after a one-day strike followed by a lockout.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Cathy Murray and other nurses headed back to work after a one-day strike followed by a lockout.

This story was reported by Globe correspondent Sara Salinas, and Emily Sweeney, John R. Ellement, Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, and Liz Kowalczyk of the Globe staff. It was written by Kowalczyk.

Nurses returned to work at Tufts Medical Center Monday, apparently no closer to reaching a compromise with hospital management than before their strike and four-day lockout.

After picketing since Wednesday, nurses walked into the main entrance of Tufts Medical in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood at the regular 7 a.m. shift change to begin their workdays. They had gathered by the dozens near the MBTA’s Orange Line station, tearing off the picket signs that had hung around their necks for days.

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“It feels great,’’ said Eileen Agranat, an operating room nurse who was on duty for her regular 12-hour shift. “We want to be back. We didn’t meet any opposition.’’

Terry Hudson-Jinks, chief nursing officer, said the transition could not have gone better. Nurses staged a one-day strike Wednesday, and a four-day lockout followed.

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“The nurses came in uneventfully and went to their respective units and focused on patients,’’ she said. “It might take a bit of time for us to feel completely like we did before, but we’re moving in that direction.”

Emotions remained high on Monday, however, and the hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association had yet to schedule a time to return to the bargaining table. Union spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said the day “was not particularly relaxed and friendly,’’ but “everybody got their job done.”

A cooling-off period is common after a strike.

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In Greenfield in Western Massachusetts, Baystate Health’s community hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association are planning to resume negotiations on Friday, more than three weeks after the union staged a strike there.

Asked when talks would resume at Tufts Medical, union and hospital officials said they were waiting to hear from a federal mediator, who schedules the meetings.

“We will discuss next steps in the negotiations with the federal mediator soon, but today, our healing organization needs to do what we do best – deliver compassion to complex patients who need our complete focus,’’ said the chief executive, Dr. Michael Wagner, in an e-mail to employees.

Dr. Barry Dorn, associate director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation & Conflict Resolution at the Harvard School of Public Health, said both sides need to put aside the initial friction and bend a little.

“They need to say, ‘What can we do together that maybe gives the nurse more of what they want, and preserves the financial well-being of the hospital?’ Right now they are doing positional bargaining. They have each taken a position. It’s not the way to solve problems.”

To keep the hospital operating, managers had signed 320 replacement nurses to five-day contracts, leading to the lockout that ended on Monday.

Roughly 300 of the 1,200 picketing nurses returned to work Monday, according to hospital officials. The rest will filter in over the next several days as their shifts start or vacations end.

Both the nurses and their managers return with the issues that initially set them apart. The hospital and the union have been unable to agree on terms for the nurses’ pay, pension program, and staffing levels.

Jean Probert is a nurse in the surgical intensive-care unit and has been at Tufts for 34 years. She walked into the hospital to work her first morning shift after being locked out. Probert described the past few days as “a surreal experience of emotions.”

“I’m eager to get back to work and take care of my patients,” she said. “We all have a job to do here. There’s still a lot of work ahead.”

After the nurses filed into the hospital, Mary Havlicek Cornacchia held back tears as she stood out front.

The picket line was gone, the sidewalk clear again. “Hopefully we can come to some sort of an agreement,’’ she said.

The nurses have drawn support from many public officials, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a former leader of the state’s building trades union, who addressed some 500 nurses on Saturday.

Union representatives will be stationed at the hospital this week, according to the union’s associate director, Gabriel Mireles.

“Our concern is really that the nurses walk into and are able to work in an environment that is free of harassment,” Mireles said just before nurses returned to work.

Barbara Tiller, a nurse and a member of the union negotiating team, said staff nurses will begin a sort of triage process upon returning to work, assessing patient care by the stand-in nurses during the past five days.

Union nurses had repeatedly said that they were concerned patients weren’t receiving good care.

The hospital has maintained that the care was excellent, although the state Department of Public Health is investigating a handful of complaints.

The hospital treated an average of 270 inpatients a day during the five-day work stoppage, according to hospital officials. Staff conducted 184 surgeries, delivered 16 babies, and saw patients in 4,200 clinic visits.

“At some point we will reach an agreement,’’ Hudson-Jinks said. “We’re going to find our way to work in harmony together in the meantime.”

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