Union news: Minnesota nurses approve contract, Massachusetts teaching hospitals targeted

Minneapolis/St. Paul nurses on Tuesday July 6 voted to ratify a new three-year labor contract with 14 area nonprofit hospitals, reports the Star Tribune. The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) wrangled a 3 percent raise (spread over three years) for the 12,000 nurses, as well as winning a concession from the hospitals to keep the nurses' pension and health insurance plans intact, reports WCCO-TV.

The MNA won that concession at the expense of their campaign centerpiece: safe staffing. The vote results demonstrate that most nurses felt ceding their demand for strict staffing ratios was the right move. However, some felt betrayed by union leaders, posting on Facebook such messages as "I feel like we were duped, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker" and "Any support we had from the public is GONE ... ," reports the Star Tribune.

The hospitals had no plans to budge on their position against mandated staffing ratios, so using existing hospital committees to tackle staffing concerns was the best compromise, according to industry experts. Hospital executives indicated a potential responsiveness. "The voices of our nurses were clear and resolute--they believe that patient care can be improved and that our work is far from over," said Allina Hospitals and Clinics CEO Ken Paulus in a staff e-mail.

But union negotiator Kevin Campbell, a nurse at the Riverside campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Fairview, doesn't think the hospitals are ready for substantive discussions about staffing. So rather than force the issue in the contract, the union plans to ask the Minnesota Legislature for assistance. "They could end up like California, where the Legislature crammed it down their throats," he said.

The Twin Cities contract is not the end of potential hospital-nurse conflicts in Minnesota, notes the Star Tribune. Staffing is again a central issue in negotiations between nurses and St. Mary's Medical Center, SMDC Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth.

In Massachusetts, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union--flush with the success of unionization drives at Catholic hospitals including St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton and Carney Hospital in Dorchester--plans to set its sights this fall on unionizing Boston's academic medical centers, recently elected union leader Veronica Turner told the Boston Globe.

SEIU Local 1199 plans to use "the strategic alliance" it formed with Caritas Christi Health Care as "a role model for other hospitals," said Turner. The union reached an agreement with Caritas to have "free and fair" elections and last year was able to close a four-year contract giving 3,000 workers at four Caritas hospitals a 3 percent annual raise and a $350 bonus effective Jan. 1, 2010. "The Caritas collective bargaining agreement gives us momentum," said Turner. "We had workers who went from $8 to $12.62 an hour immediately." Workers impacted by the contract included respiratory therapists, surgical and X-ray technicians, clerks, nursing assistants, housekeepers and dietary staff.

SEIU Local 1199 will launch the new effort with a unionization drive at Caritas' two still-nonunion hospitals, Saint Anne's in Fall River and Holy Family in Methuen. Turner expects to contact CEOs at Boston teaching hospitals about the union's organizational efforts sometime this year.

In California, an administrative law judge has agreed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that hospital managers at Santa Monica-based St. John's Health Center violated federal labor laws to stop nurses from joining the California Nurses Association (CNA), reports Medical News Today. This week nurses will rally outside the hospital to demand a fair election. Also, the CNA--barred by a federal judge from striking prior to the Sept. 30 expiration of its contract with University of California (UC) hospitals--will meet with UC negotiators on July 12, reports The Daily Bruin.

In Michigan, the NLRB will file a formal complaint against Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo if the hospital and its nurses union--which are currently without a contract and not speaking--can't voluntarily settle an unfair labor practice charge made against Borgess in March, reports the Kalamazoo News. If no settlement occurs, the NLRB will file, possibly this week, based on "reasonable cause to believe that the hospital violated the National Labor Relations Act," said Stephen Glasser, director of the NLRB's Detroit office.

To learn more:
- read these Star Tribune articles: article 1, article 2 and article 3
- read this WCCO-TV report
- read the Minnesota Nurses Association statement
- read this Boston Globe article
- read this Medical News Today article
- read this Daily Bruin article
- read this Kalamazoo News article