Nurses have mixed reactions to contract dealby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Twin Cities nurses are expressing a wide variety of reactions to the agreement announced Thursday between union negotiators and fourteen hospitals.
Just yesterday morning, Molly Ley and her husband had a serious talk about how they were going to handle finances during the strike.
The conversation changed dramatically in the afternoon.
I was taking a nap on the couch when I got a message from one of the bargaining team members that we have a contract that is agreeable, so immediately we started talking about maybe we can go on vacation and maybe we can buy that freezer," Ley said.
Ley has been an R.N. at St Joseph's hospital in St Paul for six years. She plans to vote to ratify the contract proposal Tuesday, even though it doesn't provide the set staffing ratios that nurses were fighting for.
The nurses said patient care would be at risk without better staffing, but as a part of settlement the union and hospitals agreed to continue working on the issue together inside existing committees in hospitals.
Ley hopes that process works.
"I think it's going to take a while to heal from all the conflict there's been," Ley said. "I'm nervous about what it's going to mean for our staffing; I'm nervous it's not going to make a change right away."
Ley and other nurses say they hope any rift between nurses and the public will also heal.
That rift was why Carolyn Wall, a union nurse at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, was planning to cross the picket line if it went up on Tuesday. She said she told her human resources department that she was willing to work that day.
Wall said she wasn't volunteering because of the money. She felt like she'd be abandoning her patients.
So Wall is relieved the union and hospitals came to an agreement. She said she'll vote to ratify it, but she still has qualms.
"I have been almost feeling a little guilty in some respects. We have a great contract. We make good money," Wall said. "I know there are a lot of people out there who have lost their pensions and who are paying much more for insurance. There are workers in the hospital who don't have an insurance plan that's as great."
Wall said some nurses who feel like she does have been afraid to speak up over the last few months.
"I guess I'm kind of hoping we'll still learn some lessons and be able to grow out of this; not just move on and say 'OK that's done let's see what comes round in another three years,'" she said.
But some nurses aren't ready to move on.
"Why all of a sudden is everything great now?" said Tracy Stewart, who also works at Abbott as a nurse in the emergency room.
Initially Stewart thought the agreement was a good idea, but then she started looking at the fine print. Stewart found that some nurses who were scheduled to work over the last few weeks but who were not called back from the one-day strike last month will have to use their vacation time for those days.
Stewart said nurses should have been protected from that under unfair labor laws, but the union would drop all unfair labor practice charges against the hospitals under the proposed contract.
Stewart said she's been talking to other nurses and they all have the same uneasy feeling.
"We all need a little more information and we're all kind of leaning toward no, which is a little scary," she said.
Stewart said the union may be able to win the staffing ratios nurses want if it holds out longer, but at least one nurse said she didn't expect to get everything the union had sought.
Rochelle Boyce, a union rep and R.N. at children's hospital in Minneapolis said she has faith in the negotiating team's decisions.
"We elect them to represent us, so if people can't trust them I feel that maybe it's because they're not very informed and they don't go to meetings and meet these people," Boyce said. "I'm very confident in their decision making capabilities for me."
More than 50 percent of the union's 12,000 nurses will have to feel the same way and vote to ratify the proposed contract Tuesday for it to be adopted.
- Morning Edition, 07/02/2010, 8:40 a.m.