Tufts Medical Center nurses celebrated as they returned to work, despite not having a contract yet

Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH

Tufts Nurses Return To Work, Without a Contract

July 17, 2017

Unionized nurses at Tufts Medical Center are back on the job Monday after a day-long strike and four-day lockout came to an end. There were cheers, high fives and hugs as Tufts nurses put down their picket signs and headed back to work.

There's still no contract agreement between the nurses' union and hospital, and both sides say they expect to resume negotiations shortly. 

The nurses continued to picket outside of the hospital for the four-day lockout following their 24-hour strike last week. Tufts Medical Center has maintained the lockout was necessary because they needed to sign a five-day contract with the replacement agency. 

"I'm hoping we can come to an agreement. That's why we did all this," said nurse Cathy Coburn, who picketed throughout the night. "Things need to change. We need more staff to take care of the patients that we have."  

The hospital and nurses were also negotiating pay, pensions, and other issues before the strike began last week, but they have not had talks since then. Coburn said she's been at Tufts Medical Center for 15 years.

"I chose here because this hospital made me feel like it was a family," she said. "And I feel like the family's broken now. So I'm hoping we can mend things."

Things are likely to be tense as the nurses return to work without a contract. One of the nurse negotiators, Barbara Tiller, said a doctor on the hospital's board of directors didn't respond when she said hello Monday morning.

"They can choose to be that way. We are not going to be that way," Tiller said. "We are going to go in and be respectful."

Tiller said the nurses' focus Monday would be on patient care.

"We've had substitutes in there for five days, and we have no idea what we're going to find,"  she said. "Are the orders correct? Are the meds correct? So we're going to be carefully looking at all of that, trying to upright the ship, so to speak."

Tufts Medical Center Vice President of Communications Brooke Hynes  said things went smoothly with replacement nurses and that patients received quality care. But she welcomed the nurses back. "We certainly are glad to have people back in the hospital and working together and focused on patients," she said.

Both sides said they expect to hear from the federal mediator shortly, so that negotiations can continue. But reaching an agreement may still prove challenging. Hynes said the hospital has a fixed amount of money they're able to spend on a contract, but she said they're willing to have conversations about different ways of spending those resources.

"Our greatest priority is to reach a resolution at the right point in time and have everyone back in the building permanently and really focused on patient care," Hynes said.

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