The Tenet Nurses’ Strike in Massachusetts and What It Will Take to Win

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Twenty-one years ago, the Worcester, Mass., nurses faced off against the Tenet Corporation. Newly organized, they struck for 49 days to win a first contract. Then, as now, money wasn’t the main issue. The safety of patients and staff in a profit-driven healthcare system was the nurses’ main goal, while Tenet executives demanded cruel working conditions that threatened patients’ safety and lives. It was all about control of the assembly line into which the delivery of care had been transformed.

Then, as now, a strategy of escalating pressure, finally threatening to go national and mobilizing not only the nurses directly involved but union members and community folks far beyond Worcester, is the winning formula. In 2000, it took 49 days for Tenet executives to realize they were beaten. Now this strike, which began on March 8, has gone on much longer than that.

The strikers have remained solid. Labor in the Worcester area and the community at large are supportive. Progressive groups and elected officials have come to the picket line and organized rallies. So, a few weeks ago Tenet escalated the fight, clearly pushing to break the strike and smash the union by threatening to replace the striking nurses permanently.

Alarm bells should have gone off throughout labor circles nationally.

But it took the activists and unions of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer to see the issues and recognize the threat [see article below by Mark Dudzic and Rand Wilson]. So now we are ramping up, starting with the National Town Hall on June 29, organized by the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, and the targeting of Tenet headquarters in Dallas on July 7.

The pressure on Tenet is mounting as it will try to justify its siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for pandemic relief to fatten its own coffers and those of its shareholders. But Tenet may not be afraid of elected officials and the threat of Congressional inquiries.

The logical and essential next step in Labor’s escalation in order to win this strike, beat back union busting, and push President Biden and Congress to enact the Medicare-for-All bill and fundamental labor-law reform is the full mobilization of the labor movement and our communities.

Labor leadership at all levels, but particularly at the national level, must use its resources to mobilize the force needed to turn back Tenet’s union-busting drive and reverse not only the 40 years of attacks since PATCO but the crippling provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO Executive Council and all union leadership bodies must see both the urgency of this moment and the opportunity. Tenet will not back down without it. The President and Congress will not act without it.

Like a mighty wave, we must roll over this 72-year pattern of being beaten down. Our new normal in this post-pandemic era must include solidarity strong enough to shift the balance of power in this country.

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