Nurses unions: Strike votes in D.C. and Massachusetts, pending in Minnesota

Unionized nurses at hospitals across the country continue to back up strike threats with authorization votes--and even firm strike dates--as they fail to find common ground during negotiations with hospital management teams. Here are three recent developments:

Washington, D.C. Nurses United, the union representing more than 1,600 nurses at Washington Hospital Center, has authorized a one-day unfair labor practices strike, reports the Washington Post. The voluntary strike, authorized by 78 percent of the 675 voting nurses, would protest the hospital's decision to fire 18 nurses who didn't make it to work during snowstorms that hit the area last February. No official strike date has been set at press time.

Nurses United wants the fired nurses to be reinstated and receive appropriate back pay, and also seeks assurances that what union representatives describe as "illegal" policy changes won't happen again, reports Washington City Paper. Washington Hospital Center, which replaced key members of its management team during June and July, believes a strike is unlikely since only 42 percent of the nurses actually voted. "This number does not represent the majority of Washington Hospital Center's highly skilled nurses, and we feel that most of our nurses are actually interested in reaching a prompt and fair contract agreement, which is what we have been striving to do," hospital spokeswoman So Young Pak told City Paper. However, union officials expect strike participation of at least 90 percent once a date is set.

Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Nurses Association has issued a strike notice to North Adams Regional Hospital, setting a strike date of Sept. 3 at 6 a.m., reports iBerkshires. The nurses voted to strike on July 20, but the move didn't help contract negotiations. The current contract between the nurses and North Adams parent Northern Berkshire Healthcare expired in March, and the two sides have been fighting over the hospital's "flexible scheduling" proposal and other contract language.

On Aug. 3, "all the hopes we had that management would remove the concessions and find an equitable solution went out the window," Ruth O'Hearn, a member of the nurses' bargaining unit, told iBerkshires. "They not only kept the worst concessions on the table, they added more language that is unacceptable. We were left with no other alternative but to give them a strike date."

Hospital officials expressed a willingness to compromise in an official statement, but noted that a compromise allowing "fair and mutually acceptable terms" is necessary to improve the facility's shaky financial position.

Minnesota. More than 1,300 nurses will vote on Aug. 18 to either ratify contract offers from two Duluth-based hospital systems or authorize a one-day strike, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association. The nurses' current contracts with St. Luke's Hospital and SMDC Medical Center expired on July 1. Like the recent contract negotiations in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Duluth negotiations also center on patient staffing ratios, reports Minnesota Public Radio. The nurses recently held informational pickets at both hospitals to highlight what the union calls "unsafe staffing situations." In addition, the association is working on both the state and federal level to seek mandated staffing guidelines, reports Business North.

To learn more:
- read this Washington Post article
- read this Washington City Paper article
- read this iBerkshires article
- read this Minnesota Nurses Association press release and blog post
- read this Minnesota Public Radio article
- read this Business North article