Nurses file strike notice after talks stallby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Nurses Association says its 12,000 members will go on strike Tuesday, July 6th if they can't reach a new contract agreement with Twin Cities hospitals before then.
The union says it filed its intent-to-strike notice, because negotiations with the 14 hospitals failed to make meaningful progress Thursday.
"There's still plenty of time," said Cindy Olson, a nurse negotiator. "If there's real seriousness at negotiations and hard work put into it, there's lots of time to settle this before it would happen. And that's still our ultimate goal."
Olson said hospitals didn't want to resume talks until next Tuesday, and that factored into the union's decision to file its strike notice.
Olson could not disclose any details about the contract discussions held Thursday, but she said it was a good sign that three of the nurses' top negotiators met face-to-face with three of the hospital lawyers for a period of time.
However, John Nemo, a spokesman for the Minnesota Nurses Association, said "zero progress" was made at the negotiations.
"I don't think our nurses are that type of people and take something like that lightly," Nemo said. "This isn't a game to our nurses. This is their profession, their career, their licenses and patient safety most of all."
The nurses had promised not to strike as long as meaningful negotiations were ongoing. Nemo said yesterday's session doesn't meet that bar.
Nemo said federal mediators moved between the two groups and representatives from the union and hospital did not talk directly.
Nemo said the sticking point in the talks was staffing. The nurses want to establish a set ratio of nurses to patients, but they're also asking for continued pension benefits.
Maureen Schriner, spokeswoman for the 14 Twin Cities hospitals, said the strike notice shows it's the nurses who are making it difficult to agree on a contract.
"The strategy that the union is pursuing is this aggressive strategy to strike rather than sit down at the table and have genuine negotiations," Schriner said.
Thursday's talks, held at an undisclosed location, were the first negotiations between the hospitals and union in three weeks. Two previous sessions with federal mediators in early June did nothing to break the impasse.
On June 10, the nurses held a 24-hour strike. The hospitals hired 2,800 replacement nurses to work that day.
Schriner said now the hospitals are calling those replacement nurses back.
Despite those preparations and the strike notice, the hospitals and union have agreed to meet again on Tuesday for another round of talks.
(MPR reporter Lorna Benson contributed to this report.)
- Morning Edition, 06/25/2010, 8:35 a.m.