Nurses agree to tentative settlement without staffing ratios


The standoff between 14 Twin Cities hospitals and their union nurses appeared over Thursday, when negotiators on both sides agreed to a tentative contract settlement, narrowly avoiding a work stoppage scheduled for Tuesday. [Video above from The Uptake.]

The Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents more than 12,000 nurses in contract negotiations with six metro-area hospital systems, said its members will vote on the contract Tuesday, July 6. At least 66 percent of voting members must approve the contract for it to take effect.

The high-profile negotiations on a new metro-wide contract began in March, with hospitals seeking steep wage, benefit and pension concessions from the union. Nurses, meanwhile, made their top priority increased nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, pointing to research that shows staffing levels directly affect patient safety.

In the end, MNA spokesperson and registered nurse Cindy Olson said, union negotiators were able to fend off all of the hospitals’ “take-backs and concessions,” but they were not able to secure language guaranteeing increased staffing.

“There is not a single take-back in the contract,” Olson said, adding that the union successfully fought off “all the cuts they wanted to do to our profession,” including an attempt to gut the nurses’ pension fund by 33 percent.

Olson acknowledged that some nurses will be frustrated that the contract does little to address safe staffing ratios, but she remained hopeful the hospitals will live up to their commitment to “rebuild” labor-management committees charged with investigating and addressing safe-staffing concerns.

“Just because we weren’t able to get (ratios) doesn’t mean this wasn’t about patient safety,” Olson said. “As a group of nurses, we’ve never been more together than we are right now, and I think it’s something we can better stand up for as a group now.

“I know the nurses aren’t going to sit back and be walked over anymore.”

Olson characterized the decision to settle – and avoid a strike – as somber, but said the decision was consistent with nurses’ mission to put patient care first.

“Is a strike going to make things better, or is it going to make it a whole lot worse?” she asked. “When you go on strike, nobody wins.

“It’s not everything I would hope for in a contract, but when you weigh everything out, they aren’t gutting my profession either. No matter what happens after today, we as a group came together and stood up for something we believe in.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the union rescinded its strike date of July 6, “so there is not any current strike date set,” MNA spokesman John Nemo said. If the contract is rejected, which he said was not expected, another authorization vote would have to be taken before a strike date could be scheduled.

The MNA’s negotiating committees covering all 14 hospitals have agreed to favorably recommend the settlement for ratification. 

The affected hospitals are Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Bethesda Hospital, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Fairview Southdale Hospital, Mercy Hospital, North Memorial Medical Center, Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, Phillips Eye Institute, St. John’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, United Hospital, Unity Hospital, and the Riverside Campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.  This also includes a recommended ratification for the Pension Contract at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee.