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The Massachusetts DSA Labor Blog
Updated: 9 hours 21 min ago

MNA Healthcare Workers Strike For Fair First Contract With Boston VNA

Sun, 2021-08-08 10:30

By Danish Kidwai

Amid prolonged negotiations for their first union contract, the 39 healthcare professionals (HCPs) at Visiting Nurse Associates Care (VNA Care) of Boston just concluded a seven day strike that interrupted home care for hundreds of patients in the greater Boston area.

The HCPs at VNA Care of Boston offer countless services for at-home patient care throughout the greater Boston area. Collectively referred to as HCPs, the physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and speech therapists have endured a growing burden as many aspects of patient care are relocated from the hospital to the patient’s home. VNA Care has neglected to address this shift, resulting in understaffing and challenging work conditions for HCPs that ultimately compromise the quality of care that their patients receive.

In December of 2019, the HCPs voted to unionize with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), joining the ranks of the registered nurses (RNs) at VNA Care who had previously unionized with MNA. For the last 18 months, negotiations have taken place for the first contract, with a lackluster showing from VNA Care. One year and 13 negotiations in, VNA Care had only offered worse conditions than the employees had prior to unionizing, so they delivered a petition to the CEO, Todd Rose, to request fair and good faith negotiations for the good of the patients and HCPs. 

Image provided by Geoff Carens

Seeing no signs of progress in the following six months, the HCPs officially voted to authorize a strike on June 22nd. On July 15th, they gathered with local supporters at the apartment of Rita S. Advani, the Board Chair of VNA Care, and announced that they would withhold services and care from July 26th to August 1st.

The HCPs propose a fair contract providing limits to the daily patient assignments for each HCP, healthcare and retirement benefits that match other employees of the VNA Care network, and a wage scale that recognizes the value of the HCPs’ labor and experience. VNA Care has rejected all of these stipulations and instead proposed cutting health insurance with the alternative of higher costs, cutting sick days to less than half, and cutting bereavement days.

VNA Care also refused to include language of grievance and arbitration and “just cause”, two fundamental conditions of many union contracts. Grievance and arbitration language designates a procedure and a third party arbitrator for employee complaints, or grievances, that they believe may violate the contract. “Just cause” is a standard for employee disciplinary action that, as the name suggests, demands a reasonable and fair justification. In the absence of these key elements, a contract could hardly be enforced and employees could be terminated at the whim of the employer.

The HCPs have found support on the picket line from local community members, the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM), Boston DSA members, and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George. Additionally, some of the MNA nurses from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, MA joined the picket line at the VNA Care offices on July 26th. As this battle continues with VNA Care of Boston, the 800 MNA nurses of St. Vincent’s Hospital are upholding a strike that they started in March to get their employer, Tenet Healthcare, to address similar issues of understaffing.

These are just two of the numerous battles our healthcare heros are waging across the country for fair and reasonable working conditions. In the past two months, thousands of nurses and hospital staff initiated strikes across several hospitals and clinics in Chicago and Los Angeles, with the same primary goal of addressing understaffing. Just last week in Detroit, Mount Clemens hospital conceded to provide increased staffing, a pay raise, and a ratification bonus for the Mclaren Macomb union nurses, just 4 days before their strike was set to start.

Boston DSA will continue to support the HCPs as they return to negotiations for a fair contract. These strikers and their healthcare comrades across the country surely signal a continued increase in labor consciousness. The ongoing pandemic has placed a massive burden on healthcare workers with their employers offering no substantial relief. The guiding principles of capital have no interest in helping the working class, so each of these nurses, HCPs, and hospital staff must fight for themselves and for their patients, and we will stand by them. 

Danish Kidwai is a member of the Boston DSA Labor Working Group.

Tenet’s Dismay : Another Strike Enters the Fray.

Mon, 2021-07-26 08:48

By Ariel Banks

Dragging the negotiations on by giving little more than crumbs, Tenet’s likely strategy of waiting out the nurses pandemic unemployment might be backfiring…and not just for Tenet.

On the Battleground in Worcester, MA

Back to back talks occurred last Thursday and Friday between the nurses, MNA and Tenet. The first of which, saw workers descending from the meeting with a firm thumbs down; the latter conference however, proved a little more hopeful. As one nurse I spoke with put it:

Photo provided by Ariel Banks

From what I understood, (the negotiating committee) did say there was a few small steps made. I think that now that they’re actually face to face, I’m hopeful—and I think a lot of people are hopeful. Now that everyone is willing to come together in the same room, there’s going to be little bits that can be chipped away at, that [MNA and Tenet] can agree upon.”
— Trish Wilmot, RN

To aid in combating everyone’s tense nerves, DSA decided to spice things up with an energizing salsa lesson, by Lumyr Derisier, for nurses and comrades on the Friday night picket line. After mamba’ing off any bad juju, everyone gathered to delight in a smorgasbord of ice cream options and toast the night off with us all a slick step closer to our goal.

On the Other Side of the Nation

In Southern California, various departments of unionized healthcare workers representing three Tenet-owned hospitals have voted to authorize a strike against Tenet Healthcare for all-too-familiar reasons. It’s currently uncertain if and when this will go through, but could happen as soon as August. California based Tenet workers were a solid help to the cause earlier this month when they joined our nurses in Dallas to plead the case for ‘patient safety over profits’. We’re keeping our eyes on this and will update you as things further develop.

In Another Unraveling Healthcare Scene

With help from the MNA, Boston VNA workers just formally initiated a week-long strike against their employer for—once again, putting profits over patient safety and working their staff into a skeleton crew. Updates to contracts sought by VNA were to cut the already inadequate employee benefits.

Interesting tidbit, VNA care facilities are a subsidiary of Atrius Health…who  just so happens to be in the midst of an ethically contested merger with Optum. It’s crucial for this fight to happen now before the merger finishes, which would give VNA and Atrius Health heavier resources to bust workers’ efforts. The picket line will last through August 1st and take place at the BVNA’s office located at 150 Mt. Vernon street, for comrades who would like to assist in the struggle.

The fight continues!

Ariel Banks is Secretary of Worcester’s DSA chapter.

Public Hearing Highlights Unemployment Reform Needs at State Level

Thu, 2021-07-08 07:33

By Molly Kivi

On the importance of unemployment insurance–and how an upcoming public hearing could elevate the need for reform, to the benefit of workers and communities statewide.

On July 22nd at 5pm the Commission to Study Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Solvency will hold a public hearing about the importance of safeguarding Massachusetts workers’ access to unemployment insurance. The Commission is jointly chaired by Senator Pat Jehlen of Second Middlesex district and Representative Josh Cutler of Sixth Plymouth district. You can sign up to speak at the hearing here

This commission was enacted into law on April 1st, 2021, in response to the Unemployment Tax and Benefit Reform campaign. This worker-led campaign began in March of 2020 to warn lawmakers that the unemployment system was not ready for fiscal and social emergencies such as COVID-19.

Unemployment insurance is an important tool in the labor revolution tool kit, helping to take the sting out of bosses’ threats to fire unruly workers. This is why state and federal governments have been hacking away at funding and access since the first amendment to the Social Security Act in 1939.

Unemployment insurance is designed to protect workers from economic devastation when forces out of their control take their livelihood away. Workers are forced out of their jobs all the time due to unsafe work conditions, job duties and workplace behaviors that are unlawful, as well as layoffs due to economic downturns and in industries that experience cyclical job losses, like the arts and construction. 

Despite its importance for safeguarding workers’ livelihoods, the Massachusetts unemployment insurance system has some significant structural flaws. The benefit payments do not factor in purchasing power, so insurance increasingly fails to help workers deal with a rising cost of living. The tax system used to fund the program is also regressive, because the taxable wage base is capped at the first $15,0000 of workers’ income. Furthermore, because employers’ tax rates increase when layoffs occur, smaller businesses end up  paying into the system higher rates than large businesses that are better able to weather business cycle fluctuations. Finally, for decades the trust fund that holds the money to distribute benefit payments has not collected enough revenue to comply with the Department of Labor standards,due to a  tax break benefiting big business enacted in 1997 costing the state 13 billion dollars.

The effects of an insolvent trust fund ripple throughout the state economy, ultimately hurting the working class the most. The application process places a cumbersome administrative burden on unemployed workers, and restrictions on access often disqualify workers unjustly. The taxes used to pay interest on the loans that Massachusetts takes out to cover its unemployment insurance liability are levied with a regressive impact on small businesses and workers.

Instead of giving tax breaks to big business, Massachusetts needs to create a program that helps workers and communities thrive. The Unemployment Tax and Benefit Reform campaign is calling on the state legislature to stop the big business tax freezes, to tax full wages, to enact a sliding scale benefit calculation, to ease administrative burdens, to abolish the Experience Rating system, and to guarantee that undocumented workers, who pay into the system through payroll taxes, receive the receive benefits they deserve

These legislative updates would ensure that Massachusetts workers have access to a fair unemployment insurance system. If you have a story about your experience with unemployment insurance, please sign up and share it. In our rigged political system, workers and the unemployed do not have a seat at the table. July 22nd at 5pm is our day to be heard.

Molly Kivi is human. She can be found trail running in the woods or tending to her garden. On paper she is an accountant turned unemployed server, member of Boston DSA Labor Working Group, and Founder of Stone Consultants. Current reading, “The Politics of Experience”.

100 Days of Fortitude at the St. Vincent Hospital Picket Line

Wed, 2021-06-23 23:07
Second Longest Nursing Strike in Massachusetts History Clears Day 100 as Tenet Healthcare Corporation Draws Coast to Coast Criticism

By Matthew Erlich

The St. Vincent nurse’s strike reached a milestone last week on Tuesday, June 15. That day marked day 100 since the nurses walked out to fight for safe patient care and better working conditions. It is now the 2nd longest nursing strike in Massachusetts history. The nurses of St. Vincent are as committed as ever to fight for their community and their resolve has not wavered in the face of the greedy for-profit owner, Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

Image provided by Worcester DSA

In fact, Tenet’s greed and unscrupulous practices have been put on notice on the opposite side of the country, where nurses at three Tenet owned hospitals in Orange County, California voted to authorize informational pickets on June 16. These workers, who are also fighting for a fair contract, wanted to draw attention to the fact that Tenet had taken $2.6 billion in CARES relief funds which appears to have benefited their executives and shareholders, while their patients and the frontline workers who make their hospitals run continue to suffer from unsafe staffing and work conditions.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), who represent the striking nurses, estimates that Tenet has spent over $75 million on the strike including the cost of replacement nurses and police security detail. These expenses far exceed what it would cost for Tenet to meet the nurses demands for safer staffing. This of course raises the question of why Tenet remains so stubbornly opposed? The answer seems clear: a victory for the nurses here in Massachusetts would resonate across the country and emboldening nurses at all Tenet hospitals, as we are seeing in California.

DSA support for this strike is as critical as ever given these high stakes. DSA members will continue to show their support on the picket line for as long as the fight continues. On Saturday, June 19, DSA members joined with the nurses to sing Karaoke on the picket line. They will continue to host events bringing fun and solidarity to the picket line every Friday night throughout the summer. DSA will also be raising funds to contribute to the MNA strike fund in support of the brave nurses.

To join the nurses and DSA members this Friday, June 25th for live music on the picket line, sign up here.

Impending Victory At Pavement Coffeehouse: A Blueprint For Boston Café Workers

Mon, 2021-06-07 15:22

By Henry De Groot

A Short Campaign On Its Way To Victory

Pavement Coffeehouse seems set to be Massachusetts’ first unionized café. Last week, just days after a unionization campaign went public, management issued a statement of neutrality and agreed to recognize authorization cards, clearing the path ahead. With an apparent supermajority of 80 employees already signing authorization cards, union recognition seems all but assured. Solidarity to Pavement Coffeehouse employees and congratulations on this important first step!

#SolidarityForever pic.twitter.com/8tfNMRvHXJ

— Pavement UNITED (@UnitedPavement) June 2, 2021

While it often takes months or even years for a unionization campaign to unfold, the events at Pavement largely took place just in the last month, as tensions that had been building for a year—over COVID-19 and an unwelcoming working environment—exploded. 

“We are reopening into a new paradigm where workers are ready to take back the power that they deserve, and Pavement Coffeehouse workers are leading the way.”

Employees relayed to Working Mass that Pavement’s overwhelmingly white and male upper-management had created a hostile work environment over the past year—including unwelcome interactions between management and employees. Employees remarked that the situation was especially severe for women, non-binary, and queer people. Calls for improved human resources practices went unheeded. Employees wanted to organize, but the high turnover inherent to the industry was exacerbated as the negative environment drove workers to quit.

In early May of this year, one respected non-binary manager was forced out, leading to a wave of resignations in protest. Employees began traveling to other Pavement locations to discuss events, and to consider how to respond to management’s disregard for workplace conditions.

Concurrently, employees also felt a lack of communication around the progression of reopening. Management gave employees limited notice that the cafés would remove their mask mandate, and did not ask for employee input.

Some Pavement employees turned to workers at SPoT Coffee—a small New York state chain—to learn how those workers successfully unionized last year. After receiving advice, workers formed the Pavement United Organizing Committee and within just two weeks built apparent majority support, then began working with New England Joint Board (NEJB) UNITE HERE, and took their campaign public. 

Mitchell Fallon, Communications & Political Director with NEJB UNITE HERE, gives credit to the self-led efforts of the organizing committee.

“We are reopening into a new paradigm where workers are ready to take back the power that they deserve, and Pavement Coffeehouse workers are leading the way.”

From Recognition To A First Contract

The Pavement Workers Organizing Committee are using a card check procedure to affiliate with NEJB UNITE HERE, which organizes workers in industries including textiles, hospitality, and human services. 

Card check is a method of unionization where employees sign authorization cards and demand employer recognition. This process avoids the arcane and unfavorable mechanisms of the National Labor Relations Board election procedure in favor of building worker power directly. Employers are under no legal obligation to recognize card check.

Card check campaigns often start out with a small organizing committee which works—usually for months or years—to build coworker support for unionization. Secrecy is key to building majority support before the boss can catch on and start organizing to keep the union out. But Pavement workers managed to compress months of organizing into weeks.

a union breakfast is the best way to start a weekend @UnitedPavement pic.twitter.com/fTXjYaCQqW

— dyke to watch out for (@dyke3watchout5) June 5, 2021

Mitchell reminds the public that the union has yet to be recognized and that, as far as the union is concerned, it hasn’t released any information about the number of cards signed so far.

Nonetheless, Mitchell is optimistic about the prospects moving forward. The card counting process will begin soon, but the union is just looking for an independent third party to oversee the card count. 

Assuming victory, NEJB UNITE HERE will reconvene the members of the newly formed bargaining unit to build consensus around tangible economic issues and organizing structure, and begin negotiating a first contract. Mitchell does not expect management to put up a fight during contract negotiations. 

Moving to Boston for school, Angie Muse—a Boston DSA member and Pavement employee—found community in coffee.

“You walk down the street and there’s two cafés on every corner. Having a place where you can study, where you can interact with other people, is part of what makes Boston a welcoming place to live. Cafés are like the backbone of Boston, and they couldn’t run without baristas.”

Angie has been working as a barista at different cafés—including rival Tatte—for two years. They enjoy making latte art and interacting with customers.

“Pavement is doing better than other cafés, but they still do not pay a living wage. Hopefully we will be the blueprint.” Angie has a message for other baristas: we all deserve a living wage. They added that NEJB UNITE HERE has been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the process.

Boston DSA stands in solidarity with Pavement Coffeehouse employees as they finalize the fight for recognition and transition to the fight for a first contract.

Respect On The Job And A Living Wage

Molly Robertson, an employee at Pavement Coffeehouse and early member of the Pavement United Organizing Committee, pointed to the hypocrisy of management’s messaging around inclusivity while failing to create a welcoming work environment. “The inclusive community is solely cultivated by the workers, not by upper management which is three white men,” they remarked. 

Molly sees a contract as a way to fight for a just work environment. For them, a contract would include mechanisms of accountability for management, efforts to mitigate discrimination, hire more people of color, and enforce inclusive practice, and increased transparency from management.

Angie is excited at the prospect of winning union recognition in a traditionally unorganized industry. “With the collective power that unions bring, that will open up a line of communication with upper management that benefits employees.” 

Employees have been celebrating since the news broke last week, donning red union buttons. “My coworkers make Pavement a good environment to begin with,” Angie remarked. “Going into work this week, it’s an even more happy and fun environment.”

The Importance of Solidarity

The immediate outpouring of support for unionization, with messages of solidarity from Senator Ed Markey, MA-07 Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other local politicians, shows that the community is ready to stand behind Pavement employees. 

Organized power is realized power!

Congratulations @PavementCoffee workers. You've taken the first step to form a union and we've got your back. Management should recognize the union voluntarily and respect the integrity of the process. https://t.co/0VbUIvV9XE

— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) June 2, 2021

“Especially to the working people of DSA, what we stand for can be done!”

Of course, the entire community hopes that Pavement management will do the right thing and sign a fair contract immediately. However, if that is not the case, community support will be crucial to bring pressure to bear on management. Potential forms of support include rallies, informational pickets, and community boycotts. 

On solidarity, Angie had this to say: “Especially to the working people of DSA, what we stand for can be done! Please lend your support by following our social media, sharing our story, and giving encouragement.”

“And come in and grab a coffee,” they added. “They’re good, I promise.”

Pavement Struggle Is A Blueprint

Since the news broke, NEJB UNITE HERE and Pavement United have been receiving interest from other café workers, including from Blue Bottle Coffee, Tatte Bakery & Café, and the Thinking Cup. Mitchell said the workers want to learn about how Pavement workers organized, and are curious about unionizing their own shops. 

Workers at Flour Bakery report receiving a raise of $1.50/hr last week, after news broke about the campaign at Pavement.

A victory for workers at Pavement will serve as an inspiration—and an organizing hub—for café and restaurant workers around the city. Other small, local chains or individual shops in the city seem like logical next targets. Any efforts could then progress to similar chains in the suburbs, including Marylou’s and Pressed Café.

Local chains lack the resources of large corporations to weather strikes or boycotts, while being more financially viable to organize than individual shops. Pavement Coffeehouse itself has 8 locations in Boston and Cambridge, mostly near Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston University. Especially with the current labor shortage, workers at these locations are in a strong position to demand better working conditions.

Organizing larger chains will likely be a tougher battle. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Café Nero have war chests which empower them to weather any pressure leveraged on them locally. These companies have a lot to lose in allowing Boston to set a precedent for their national workforces. However, the franchise structure of Dunkin’ Donuts may allow for a campaign to target all franchises under one owner, increasing odds of a worker victory.

The impending victory at Pavement will serve as powerful inspiration, but café management across Boston is undoubtedly now deliberating about how to mitigate employee demands for reform. Workers at Pavement and other cafes, NEJB UNITE HERE organizers, and community supporters (including the DSA) should not waste time in aggressively pursuing campaigns for unionization at additional locations. The DSA Labor Working Group stands ready to support all efforts to organize café workers.

Ultimately, the most important factor is the self-initiative of café workers. Union organizers and socialists can provide advice and mobilize community support, but cannot replace organizing among co-workers. Any café worker interested in organizing should reach out to NEJB UNITE HERE (www.NEJB.us/organize) and/or to the Boston DSA Labor Working Group (labor@bostondsa.org).

The Wind First Shakes The Tops Of The Trees

The unusually rapid developments at Pavement may also be a foreshadowing of a trend which transcends both Pavement and the pandemic. In the historical development of the class struggle, often the consciousness of smaller sections of a class shift prior to the class as a whole; the developments of these sections often anticipate the mode and tempo of class struggle in the next period.

In this case, we have the rapid unionization of a workplace in the student sections of Boston, largely but not exclusively staffed by undergraduates and recent graduates. This is set on a background where—in the last five years—the ideas of socialism and unionism have become widely accepted by the youth, not least because of the appeal of the Sanders campaigns. 

That is to say, the ideas of class struggle and socialism are increasingly permeating the workforce through Millennial and Gen Z employees, laying the kindling for worker organizing so thick that when a spark is lit, the fire spreads with a pace and breadth unknown in decades. It seems that organizers everywhere have something to learn from the Pavement Worker Organizing Committee!

Now the job of the labor movement and the socialist movement is to grab the bellows, and fuel this fire with the oxygen of organizing so that it may spread as a great conflagration, burning up mistreatment and low wages at every café in Boston.

Henry De Groot is an editor of Working Mass, a member of the Boston DSA Labor Working Group, and a board member of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild.

Photo Credit: @UnitedPavement on http://www.twitter.com

Party at the Picket Line

Thu, 2021-05-27 13:04
Dispatch: Week 11 at the St. Vincent Hospital strike

By Matthew Erlich

Video provided by Worcester DSA

Spirits were high at the St. Vincent Hospital picket line as DSA members joined striking nurses last Friday (May 21) at St. Vincent Hospital. Despite it being the 11th week since walking off the job to fight for safe conditions for the nurses and their patients, the nurses got to dance the night away to the sounds of local musicians who showed up to show their support.

Since the strike began in the frigid weather of early March, nurses have waited out delays in ther unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits; they’ve watched as multiple attempts at negotiations have fallen apart in the face of Tenet’s (the for-profit owner of St. Vincent) unwillingness to provide the necessary staffing to ensure patient safety; most recently, Tenet has threatened to hire permanent replacement workers—though the nurses see right through the desperate tactic that it is.

With the strike now in week 12, members of the Boston, Worcester, and Pioneer Valley DSA chapters are continuing to walk the picket line alongside the striking nurses to show solidarity. They plan to show up in support every Friday night until the nurses’ demands are met. This Friday, May 28, musicians from BABAM! (Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians) will be in Worcester for another musical night of solidarity.

Sign up to join us on Friday nights and show your support for the nurses of St. Vincent Hospital.

Image provided by Worcester DSA