Tags: US | Nurse | Strike | Minnesota

Issues Remain After Walkout by 12K Minn. Nurses

Friday, 11 Jun 2010 07:27 AM

Thousands of Minnesota nurses were heading back to work Friday after a one-day strike, still without a contract and with the same complaints of short-staffing that fueled a one-day walkout.

But the Minnesota Nurses Association believes it sent its message, spokesman John Nemo said.

"Absolutely, I think we achieved our goal by causing maximum impact on the hospitals with minimum impact on patients and the community," he said.

More than 12,000 nurses went on strike at 14 hospitals Thursday, primarily to demand increased staffing they say is needed to improve patient safety. The hospitals responded by bringing in extra non-union staff, hiring 2,800 replacement nurses and reducing patient counts. Hospital officials reported no problems.

"The message has been delivered that our nurses are serious about the patient safety issue and that, hopefully, the hospitals will say to us 'message received' and they're ready to go back to the bargaining table," Nemo said.

Nurse Jenni Foster left her infant patients in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital — an experience she called "horrible" — to join the picket line Thursday.

"I just don't know if it's going to be effective," she said. "Are we going to get a new contract? I just want it to be over."

Union leaders have said more job actions are possible if they can't reach a deal with the hospitals, but no new talks were scheduled.

Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for the 14 hospitals, said the hospitals would start recalling their nurses Friday. Because many hospitals reduced their patient counts ahead of the strike, some nurses would not be called back right away.

"We have been focused this week on the strike, now we need to take an assessment of where we go," she said.

She said the hospitals remained willing to discuss staffing issues with the union.

"There's room to negotiate," she said. "We've done it before."

Schriner said she didn't expect lingering bad feelings after the strike. "We don't look at this as a conflict with our nurses, we look at this as negotiations with their union," she said.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, chief clinical officer at Allina Hospitals and Clinics, said there were no reports of problems at any of the 14 hospitals, a sign that weeks of planning had paid off.

"I will be glad when we get out of this mode of positioning and really design what's best for our patients together," Wheeler said. "That's how we should be collaborating."

The hospitals declined to talk about how much the one-day strike was costing them. Web advertisements from two large staffing agencies — Healthsource Global Staffing and U.S Nursing — said they were offering replacement nurses between $1,600 and $2,224 for one day of work and one day of orientation.

The union wants to write rigid staffing levels into their contracts, reduce the hospitals' ability to "float" nurses from department to department and order hospitals to shut down units, with some exceptions, at 90 percent capacity in the name of patient safety. They also are resisting a proposal to reduce their pensions.

The hospitals claim the union's staffing proposals would increase costs by $250 million a year without improving safety. The hospitals also say that even with their proposed pension cuts, a nurse with 25 years of experience would receive $3,000 a month at retirement.

Full-time nurses at the Minnesota hospitals are paid an average of $79,000 a year, or about $10,000 more than the national average. However, most nurses work part-time and when they are figured in the average Minnesota nurse makes about $62,000 a year, or $38 an hour.

The hospitals' last proposal offers pay increases over the three-year contract of zero percent, 1 percent and 2 percent, with other increases for seniority. The union wants increases of 3.5 percent to 4 percent a year.



Minnesota Nurses Association: http://mnnurses.org/

Twin Cities Hospitals: http://www.twincitieshospitals.com/

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