TAUNTON — A crowd of more than 150 rallied on the Green Thursday, demanding pay raises for health care workers at Morton Hospital.
Nurses and health care professionals with the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been in contract negotiations with the hospital since October. Union members argued that Morton salaries lag behind those of Boston hospitals so badly that local nurses are choosing not to work in Taunton.
Registered nurse Teresa Ferreira has worked at Morton for 31 years.
"I want to stay here the rest of my career," said Ferreira. "Our pay scale is lagging behind."
Heidi Taylor, president of the hospital, countered that Morton has "pulled out all the stops" to attract and keep local nurses.
"[W]e are proud of our relentless efforts to recruit top local talent to our community hospital over the past several months," Taylor said in a letter to the editor sent to the Gazette Friday morning.
Registered nurse Allison Gomes, an East Taunton native with 23 years of service at Morton, said that during negotiations of recent contracts, the most experienced nurses — those at the highest step for salary — have pushed for safety improvements instead of pay increases. But she said now is the time for pay increases.
"Young ones out of school are going to Boston," Gomes said.
A major talking point among union members was the hospital's use of "traveling nurses." These nurses choose to take short-term jobs at health care facilities across the country.
The union, in a pre-rally press statement, said there were 190 jobs open at Morton.
"[T]he number of national 'travel nurses' who are temporarily filling some vacancies is costing the hospital exorbitant amounts of money when competitive wages could help stabilize the flow of local community healthcare workers who are deciding to work elsewhere," the MNA said.
Jenn Roderiques, a registered nurse with 21 years of service at the hospital, said use of traveling nurses spiked along with COVID.
"They're coming and going," said Roderiques, recently named the vice-chairperson of Morton's MNA bargaining unit. "We're vested."
Tiago Cardoso, a 2003 graduate of Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School in Taunton, has worked at Morton for 10 years. He wants to stay at his hometown hospital instead of taking work in Boston for higher pay.
"If I wanted to, it would be easy," Cardoso said of taking a nursing job in Boston. "We have a staffing crisis in the middle of COVID. People are leaving for monetary reasons."
Several local politicians attended the rally, including State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), State Rep. Carol Doherty (D-Taunton), and Taunton city councilors John McCaul, Phil Duarte, Barry Sanders and Larry Quintal. All but Quintal spoke at the rally.
McCaul, who garnered the union's endorsement for his 2013 City Council run — "in recognition of McCaul’s tireless efforts" in the unsuccessful bid to keep Morton's pediatric unit from closing nearly a decade ago — led the crowd in a chant of "Keep our healthcare professionals local."
Send your news tips to reporter Chris Helms by email at CHelms@tauntongazette.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette.
This article originally appeared on The Taunton Daily Gazette: Massachusetts Nurses Association leads rally on Taunton Green