Roughly 6,000 nurses at several Twin Cities hospitals will vote Tuesday on a new labor contract that, if approved, represents a sharp contrast to the contentious 2010 talks that resulted in a one-day strike that was one of the largest in U.S. history.
Negotiators for the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) accepted the terms of a three-year deal Thursday, one day after agreeing with several major hospitals to bargain only over salary increases and to leave pensions and other benefits unchanged. The hospital systems include Children's, Fairview, HealthEast and North Memorial.
Also removed from negotiations was any discussion of fixed nurse-staffing ratios. The union made ratios a central issue in the 2010 negotiations that included a June 10 strike. Nurses went into those talks arguing they didn't have enough help to ensure patient safety, but eventually agreed to a contract without fixed ratios.
The union no longer sees piecemeal bargaining as the way to gain ratios to protect staffing levels, and didn't raise them in 2013 contract talks either, said MNA spokesman Rick Fuentes. "Even if we win that fight in the contracts, that's not fair [to hospitals that aren't covered by the contracts]. The Legislature is really the only fair way to address that."
Negotiations in the Twin Cities are unique because the union typically engages all the major hospitals at once. But this year, Allina Health broke ranks and decided to engage in full negotiations rather than only bargain over salaries.
Health insurance and other benefits haven't changed in nearly a decade, despite massive changes in health care and how it is funded, said David Kanihan, a spokesman for Allina, which employs 4,800 unionized registered nurses at four metro hospitals. "With the acceleration of health care reform, there are important issues that need to be addressed in the contracts so we can keep pace with significant changes in how we deliver care," he said.
The 6,000 hospital nurses who will vote Tuesday include those working at Children's in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Riverside campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview Southdale in Edina, Bethesda and St. Joseph's in St. Paul, St. John's in Maplewood, North Memorial in Robbinsdale, and Methodist in St. Louis Park.
The proposed contract would increase wages by 2 percent each year for the next three years.
Regions Hospital in St. Paul and the Maple Grove Hospital employ nonunion nurses and aren't involved.