Nurses reject hospitals' offer; strike preparations continueby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Nurses Association has rejected an offer by 14 Twin Cities hospitals that would have restored nurses' full pension benefits and set up a working group to address some of their staffing concerns.
The union says the proposal was unacceptable because it didn't adequately address their staffing issues. The union also says the plan would have required nurses to make too many other concessions.
The hospitals' revised contract offer expired at midnight and hospitals say they will negotiate in the future based on their previous contract proposals.
Negotiators for nurses and hospitals met with federal mediators for more than 12 hours, but they made little progress.
CONCESSIONS OFFERED, BOTH SIDES SAY
Both sides say they came to the table with significant concessions. Hospitals offered to dump their plan to cut nurses' pension contributions. They also said they were willing to collaborate with nurses on a plan to address their patient workloads.
Nurses say they too eased up on some of their wage and staffing proposals, but the union said it wouldn't change its demand that hospitals agree to firm nurse-to-patient ratios.
Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for Twin Cities Hospitals said the nurses don't seem to understand that the hospitals will never accept mandatory ratios.
"The hospitals have made clear in March that we would not accept these," Schriner said. "We've made clear in June, and we have stated to the union that our position will not change in September or November or December. So we are looking at the potential of a long-term strike."
NO PLANS TO RESUME TALKS
There is no plan yet to resume negotiations before next Tuesday's strike deadline. The union released a statement on its website saying that it asked hospitals to return to the bargaining table Wednesday. But Schriner says union negotiators told the hospitals at the end of the night that there was no point in scheduling additional sessions, since neither party was planning to change its proposals.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Nurses Association said he couldn't comment on the situation beyond what was contained in the union's statement, which was posted shortly after negotiations broke off. The statement said that nurses remain committed to meeting anytime and anywhere before July 6 in the hopes of reaching a settlement and avoiding a strike.
Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Schriner said the employers will focus now on getting their contingency plans in place, so they will be prepared for a strike. She said some hospitals have heard that they may not need to replace as many nurses as they initially thought.
"We are getting more indication from nurses that they are willing to cross the picket line and they are willing to resign from the MNA," she said.
The Minnesota Nurses Association says claims about defections in its ranks are exaggerated, especially considering that 87 percent of its members who voted authorized an open-ended strike.
The union will begin preparing its members for the strike during meetings Wednesday at its St. Paul headquarters.
- Morning Edition, 06/30/2010, 7:35 a.m.