The sound outside of Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence was deafening on Monday afternoon as hundreds of nurses and other members of Local 5098 of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) began their three-day strike for a fairer contract.
The union’s previous contract with the hospital ended on June 30. Both the union and Lifespan, the nonprofit corporation which manages both hospitals, had reached a provisional agreement earlier this month before the new three-year contract proposed by Lifespan was voted down by a majority of Local 5098’s members. Final negotiations held between the hospital and union leadership on Monday morning failed to produce a contract amenable to the union’s demands, and members were relieved at 1:30pm Monday. They will be locked out until 3pm on Friday afternoon, and will march from 6am-11pm every day until then.
“This is a difficult day for all of us,” said Local 5098 president Frank Sims in a statement on Monday. “Every member who walks the picket line understands what’s at stake for themselves, their families and their patients. Lifespan is a broken system where wealthy executives make millions and frontline caregivers are ordered to do more with less, and until that changes, patient care will be adversely affected.”
Sherry Tomasso, a member of the union’s leadership committee who has worked as a trauma ICU nurse for 29 years, told RI Future that UNAP is striking for improved care for patients alongside fairer wages. She listed a lack of adequate staffing and access to supplies as among the current barriers to adequate care.
At the strike, several UNAP members marched with signs decrying the hospital’s hiring of provisional healthcare workers during the week of the strike. RIPR reported that Lifespan has spent $10 million in hiring temporary staffing to fill in until Friday. One sign read, “We’re out here, don’t trust the healthcare in there.” Another: “Some cuts don’t heal, they make scabs!”
Among the allies marching in solidarity with the union was Teamsters Local 251, the Massachusetts Nursing Association, candidate for city council Justice Gaines (Ward 1) , and candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg. “We’ve got an organization that gives its top executives millions of dollars a year and doesn’t pay any taxes,” Regunberg said. “They can afford to do right by their employees and we’re going to be out here until they do.”
A report on this site last year found that Lifespan president Tim Babineau was second on the Wall Street Journal’s list of 11 Rhode Islanders who made more than $1 million working for non-profits in 2014. Babineau made more than $1 million in base pay and more than $2.4 million in total compensation that year; three of the top six highest paid non-profit employees were Lifespan executives.
Laufton Ascencao, a Democratic candidate for House District 68 (Bristol, Warren) and an organizer with the Working Families Party, was also at the march. “Everyone has a right to organize,” he said. “Workers have the power to organize—its better for the patients and its better for the workers. We need all of our elected officials to stand with them all the time, solidarity has to go in that direction.”
CORRECTION: The headline above states that the strike will last five days. Although the strike will last from Monday through Friday afternoon, UNAP only voted for a three-day strike. Lifespan will still lock out members until 3pm Friday, as Tomasso told RI Future.