Minnesota nurses hold strike vote over staffing concerns

More than 1,300 nurses in Duluth, Minn., will vote today to decide whether to accept final contract offers from two hospital systems or to reject the contracts and authorize a one-day strike, reports Minnesota Public Radio. Negotiators with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) have recommended that members reject the contracts with St. Luke's Hospital and SMDC Medical Center, which respectively employ about 430 and 930 registered nurses. At least 66 percent of the nurses at each health system need to reject the contracts to authorize the strike, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The nurses will have to provide a 10-day notice prior to striking.

Money isn't the issue. Both sides agreed on annual wage increases of 0, 1 and 2 percent over three years. The problems, unsurprisingly, relate to staffing. The MNA doesn't like the staffing language included in the contracts and wants nurses to have unilateral power to stop admissions to understaffed hospital units. However, the hospitals definitely disagree. "The union demand that individual nurses unilaterally decide whether or not to provide a patient with care is not in the best interest of our patients," Dr. Gary Peterson, St. Luke's medical director, said in a statement to the Star Tribune. The hospitals contend that nurses should work with managers to decide when to close a unit to new admissions.

In addition, the St. Luke's nurses aren't pleased by code-of-conduct restrictions in their contract. They consider the restrictions a type of gag rule, but hospital management says the conduct rules are needed for participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, reports Minnesota Public Radio.

UPDATE: More than 85 percent of the nurses at both hospitals voted to reject the contracts, authorizing a one-day strike (date to be determined), reports the Star Tribune

To learn more:
- read this Minnesota Public Radio report
- check out this Star Tribune article
- read this Duluth News Tribune article

- read this Star Tribune article