Dominique Muldoon’s summer trip to Dallas with other nurses to rally in front of Tenet Healthcare offices on Dallas Parkway has finally paid off.
St. Vincent Hospital nurses and Tenet Healthcare reached a tentative agreement last week, potentially ending a nine-month strike that started in Massachusetts on March 8.
“I felt that we would get an agreement eventually,” Muldoon told The Dallas Express. “I’m pleased that it happened now and not later. It could have happened sooner. That would’ve been nice, too, but I’m just happy in the spot that I’m in right now that an agreement happened. It’s a nice way to start the new year.”
Muldoon, a post-surgical RN for 19 years, was among 20 of some 700 striking nurses who traveled to Texas from Massachusetts in July to raise awareness about their grievances.
“Sometimes, shining a light on what’s going on and getting it out there is definitely a very important part of getting things resolved,” Muldoon said in an interview. “It wasn’t just a few of us. It was all of us. We were all together on it. I think that is an important statement when you have 700 nurses saying the same thing. There’s something to that.”
Tenet Healthcare did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“We were able to get a provision where we returned to our exact positions after the strike is ended, which is how all strikes should be settled but it didn’t come very easily,” said Marlena Pellegrino, a longtime RN at St. Vincent Hospital and co-chair of the St. Vincent Hospital nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA). “We were really in a war in which all the odds were against us except there is no accounting for people’s stamina and resolve in unity. It was definitely a grueling, grueling battle but well worth it.”
Their grievances included allegations that conditions for patients were unsafe and needed improvement.
“We were able to achieve a bonus for hours worked during 2020 but it was never about the money,” said Marie Ritacco, an RN, a member of the nurses negotiating committee, and vice president of the MNA. “It was always about the patients, but, of course, we didn’t achieve everything that we set out to achieve even within the discussions of the return-to-work agreement but nothing that was a deal-breaker.”
The strike was nearly settled in August, according to Pellegrino.
“When we came back from Dallas, we presented to the corporate executives a petition that had more than 600 nurses’ signatures on it to say that we stand in solidarity for safe patient care,” she said. “At that time, the return-to-work agreement was not an issue because we hadn’t even had anything close to a settlement. As soon as we came back from Dallas, within a few days, there were negotiation sessions scheduled but in August, that all fell through.”
The nurses, however, never doubted that the strike would someday end.
“It wasn’t easy,” Pelligrino told The Dallas Express. “There were days you were crawling to that picket line, and there were days that you ran there with your head held high. Every day I went there, I was proud, but it’s not an easy thing to do for 285 days.”
A tentative agreement was finally reached on December 17 after two weeks of discussions with federal mediators at an in-person session mediated by the U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
“Secretary Walsh set up a meeting and was able to mediate very effectively,” said Muldoon, who co-chairs the St. Vincent Hospital nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “He understood the issues, and he had the humanity to be able to see through any stumbling things that can happen during a very bitter nine-month strike. He was very instrumental in facilitating the talk.”
As previously reported in The Dallas Express, the MNA filed eleven unfair labor practice charges against Tenet Healthcare with the National Labor Relations Board, resulting in an investigation.
“We are elated to say that we came away with an agreement that we think every nurse will be gratified to know that they will get their job back,” Ritacco told The Dallas Express. “That was the sticking point from the middle of August, and so here we are preparing, at this point, to have every nurse mailed to their home a copy of the tentative agreement.”
A vote that ratifies the tentative agreement is expected to take place next year.
“We’re recommending unanimously a yes vote, but every nurse has to have that opportunity to see how it fits in with his or her life and how they want to vote,” Muldoon said. “We have not set a date yet, but we hope to set a date to vote in early January.”
Although Muldoon is not counting on being reimbursed the money she spent traveling to Dallas, she is looking forward to regaining her job at St. Vincent Hospital.
“We were told that quite a number of us could not return to our jobs because we had been replaced,” she said. “We went out on strike to have safer conditions in the beginning and for nurse-to-patient staffing, but at the end of it, not returning us all also became a safety issue because nursing can be highly specialized in some areas. We did get that core issue resolved, and we are very happy that we are all going back to work.”
While on strike, the mother of two children and grandmother of four was working a job administering vaccinations.
“I would like to keep doing the job on an as-needed basis,” Muldoon added. “It’s a vaccination job, and I feel it’s very important for people who want to get vaccinated to have that available to them. I will probably do both jobs. Maybe I will cut back on the vaccination job, but I would like to continue it as long as people want that service.”