Frustrated with their employers’ unwillingness to put patient care ahead of profits, Twin Cities nurses announced plans Friday to walk off the job June 10, setting the stage for the largest nurses’ strike in U.S. history.
Spokespeople for the Minnesota Nurses Associations, which represents more than 12,000 members in bargaining with six area hospital systems, held out hope the two sides would reach a settlement before the one-day strike, authorized when more than 90 percent of voting members voted to reject the hospitals’ final contract offers May 19.
But nurses cautioned there would be no settlement unless Twin Cities hospitals to do something that, so far, they have proven unwilling to do: negotiate.
“There is no way meaningful negotiations can happen when one side doesn’t show up, and when they do show up, they spend the whole time talking about takeaways and cutbacks,” said Nelly Munn, a nurse a Children’s Hospital.
Asked why nurses waited more than a week to announce a strike date, Munn said the union’s bargaining teams wanted “an opportunity to go back to the table” and see if hospitals were interested in discussing nurses’ top concerns – safe patient staffing in particular.
“We’ve seen from the employers that they aren’t interested in doing that,” Munn said, adding that her unit’s last bargaining session lasted just 12 minutes before management walked out. “Until there’s some sort of deadline, we don’t expect that they’re going to act.”
Munn and other nurses expressed frustration that all six hospital systems, bargaining independently on everything except the nurses’ pension, continue to ignore proposals nurses have offered aimed at improving patient safety and care.
Nurses are seeking contract language that would set a maximum number of patients that could be assigned to a nurse on the floor – so-called “staffing ratios,” which, according several independent studies, are proven to improve patient safety dramatically.
Nurses also are seeking contract provisions for continuing education, standardized measures to protect against the spread of infectious diseases and staffing plans to govern emergencies and disasters – all of which seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Instead, Munn said, hospitals are pushing “takeaways and cutbacks” despite the fact they reported $700 million in profits last year – money that, as non-profit systems, they are supposed to put back into health care. “What better way than with the proposals made by the very people who provide that care?” Munn asked.
How united are the nurses around the issue of patient safety?
When a reporter asked if it was accurate to say safe staffing was as important an issue as wages, the conference room, packed with more than 50 nurses, responded in unison: “Absolutely.”
“The patient care and the ratios – that’s the important thing this year,” Cindy Olson, a nurse at St. John’s in Maplewood, explained. “And yes, that does cost money, but I talked to a nurse the other day, and she told me she didn’t get to see one of her patients until 10 a.m., when her shift started at 7 a.m. Is that safe patient care? Is that how you want to be (cared for) in a hospital?”
Asked if nurses might reconsider if offered bigger raises by the hospitals, Munn replied: “We can’t be bought out. Apparently, that’s what happens in the higher ranks of management, but not with nurses. We’re here for our patients.”