Twin Cities nurses to strike June 10 if agreement not reachedby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — About 12,000 Minnesota nurses will go on a one-day strike June 10, if they can't reach a contract agreement with Twin Cities Hospitals before that date.
The Minnesota Nurses Association says it filed the strike notice Friday to jumpstart stalled contract negotiations. The union says there's still time to avoid a strike.
The announcement gives 14 metro-area hospitals a little less than two weeks to make contingency plans for a strike. The hospitals say the union's decision is confusing, because just two days ago both sides agreed to resume talks with the help of a federal mediator.
Nurses say they had no choice but to pick a strike date. They say hospitals have refused to discuss the one issue that matters most to them in these negotiations -- staffing ratios.
Nellie Munn is a nurse negotiator who works at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Munn says nurses showed tremendous restraint in not filing their strike notice immediately following their vote last week.
She says nurses wanted to give hospitals time to revise their contract offers. But no new offers materialized.
"Until there's some firm deadline, we don't expect that they're going to act," said Munn. "But now that we are issuing the notice, and in fact, even giving them additional time beyond the required 10 days, we feel that this is what is needed in order to get bargaining going again, so we can settle this contract."
Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for the 14 Twin Cities hospitals involved in contract talks, says the strike notice is perplexing because hospitals thought they had worked out a deal with nurses to resume talks.
"So one day ago, we got a reassurance that the union wanted to get back to the bargaining table and to include a federal mediator," she said. "The hospitals had agreed to do this, that we had promoted this effort in good faith. And what we get in return is that the union is calling a strike?"
Schriner says the hospitals still intend to get back to the bargaining table. But she says now that a strike deadline is hanging over them, hospitals will also have to focus on finding replacement workers.
"The hospitals will be open. The hospitals will ensure patient safety. But it is disruptive, because we have to put a contingency plan into place," she said.
The search for replacements could be complicated by another one-day nurses strike announced Friday in California. As many as 13,000 nurses, who work at University of California hospitals and four other facilities, also picked a June 10 strike date.
Jill Furillo is the bargaining director for National Nurses United. The California and Minnesota unions are members of her organization.
Furillo says the two strikes were not coordinated. She says the California nurses had been bargaining for many months, and were waiting to hear from an arbitrator before setting their strike date.
"The timing for the University of California is not really related at all to Minnesota, in so far as no one knew when the arbitrator would actually issue their report," said Furillo.
Twin Cities Hospitals didn't learn of the California nurses' strike until late Friday afternoon. Spokeswoman Maureen Schriner said she didn't know how it would affect the ability of Minnesota hospitals to find replacements. But she was suspicious about the timing of the two strikes.
It would appear that the two sides have a long way to go before reaching an agreement.
But Deb Wood remains an optimist. She's a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Wood says in 2001, nurses at her hospital voted to go on strike, but in the final hours before the strike, they reached an agreement with the hospital system.
"It took us right up to the last minute to get that thing settled. But sometimes that's the pressure you need to get both sides to come together."
For now though, the one-day strike is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on June 10 and end at 7 a.m. on June 11.
- All Things Considered, 05/28/2010, 5:24 p.m.