After stalled talks, nurses, hospitals prep for strikeby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — After negotiations between the Minnesota Nurses Association and 14 Twin Cities Hospitals ended early this morning with little progress, a nurses strike next week looks more likely than ever.
12,000 union nurses are planning to walk out in an open-ended strike next Tuesday unless the two sides reach an agreement, but no new talks are scheduled at the moment.
By 8 a.m. this morning, the parking lot outside union headquarters off Shepard Road in St. Paul was overflowing. Sara Anderson from Children's Hospital in Minneapolis was one of hundreds of nurses hoping union leaders would deliver some positive news about the latest round of talks. But she wasn't smiling.
"I'm disappointed," she said. "I wish that things could have gone better last night."
Anderson said she'd rather not strike, but she feels it's the only option left since the two sides remain so divided. It was a common refrain among the dozen or so nurses who offered an opinion.
FIXED STAFFING RATIONS STILL STICKING POINT
Both the hospitals and the union came to the bargaining table saying they were willing to make concessions. But after 12 hours, talks with federal mediators ended again without a deal.
The nurses eased up on some of their wage and staffing proposals. The hospitals offered to toss out their plan to cut nurse pension contributions. They also said they would collaborate with nurses on a plan to address nurse workloads.
But that wasn't enough for the union, which wouldn't budge on what has been the main sticking point for weeks -- a demand that hospitals agree to mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, ratios the hospitals have said repeatedly they will never accept.
"The hospitals said no when negotiations began in March, we said no in June after the one-day strike and we will be saying no in September and October and November," Twin Cities Hospitals spokeswoman Maureen Schriner said in a midday press conference. "If the union is giving any presentation to its members that the hospitals are going to change our situation on this union proposal by going on a strike it is misleading its members."
Schriner said the nurses' staffing proposals are too expensive and not necessary. The union has maintained the ratios are necessary to protect patient safety.
Union officials are calling on the hospitals to return to the bargaining table before Tuesday, when nurses plan to walk out. The hospitals say there is no point to further talks if both sides aren't willing to give.
CROSSING THE PICKET LINE
Meanwhile, with a strike appearing all but inevitable, the rhetoric is shifting from the negotiations to what will happen during a walkout.
Hospitals say the union is trying to intimidate nurses into joining a strike that goes against their own interests. Schriner said the hospitals are already getting calls from nurses saying they plan to cross the picket line.
The number of nurses who cross the picket lines could be a powerful factor in the length and outcome of a strike. The more that cross, the less the hospitals will have to spend on highly paid replacement nurses.
Union officials say with 87 percent of nurses who voted approving the strike, there is little reason to believe that nurses will defect in significant numbers.
Leaving the morning nurses meeting covered in union buttons and stickers, 25-year hospital veteran Shirley Shogren said she sees through the hospitals' strategy to scare nurses into crossing the picket line.
"They want us to go out and stay out as long as they think we can and see if anybody starts coming back," she said. "That is the last resort; they've got to bust our union."
Schriner said the hospitals are working on plans to protect any nurses who decide to cross the picket line and work during the strike.