Duluth Nurses Conduct Second Round of Informational Picketing

Media Contact: John Nemo, MNA, 651-414-2863 or e-mail

DULUTH, Minn. (August 3, 2010) - Less than a month after their powerful display of solidarity outside SMDC Medical Center, hundreds of Duluth Nurses will conduct a second round of informational picketing - this time from 1:30-5:00 p.m. outside of St. Luke's Hospital - to call attention to unsafe staffing situations.

"During their negotiations earlier this summer, Twin Cities nurses had to fight to maintain safe staffing language written into their contracts that allows them to advocate for patient safety," said Duluth RN Steve Strand. "Here at St. Luke's and SMDC, we don't even have that type of language to fight for in our contracts. So our mission right now is to get the same type of patient safety language written into our agreements."

More than 1,300 Duluth nurses at SMDC and St. Luke's Hospital are in the midst of negotiations with hospital executives regarding a new labor agreement. Their current contract expired on July 1, and several weeks of bargaining has yielded little progress at both facilities.

"As with any set of contract negotiations, there are economic issues involved, but far and away the most pressing issue is what to do about these unsafe staffing conditions," said Dan Engelhart, an MNA Organizer. "On some hospital units, sometimes we have one nurse trying to care for 9 to 13 patients. When you consider what goes into caring for each individual patient, you begin to realize just how dangerous these types of situations are. And it's not like our hospitals can just close their doors and go on 'Divert' status in the Emergency Room. There isn't anywhere else for our patients in the Northland to go when a medical emergency strikes."

In particular, Duluth nurses are seeking the same contractual rights Twin Cities nurses have when it comes to letting nurses close a specific unit to new admissions when there are too many patients and not enough nurses, along with allowing nurses to conduct grid reviews with mediation and giving RNs the contractual right to say "No" to an unsafe assignment. In addition, there is a significant and dramatic problem with chronic RN understaffing at SMDC, according to Strand.

"Here at SMDC, we currently had more than 800 open nursing shifts over a four-week period from mid-June to mid-July," he said. "The hospital is literally begging nurses to work double shifts and overtime to try and fill all these gaps. But if you or your loved one is a patient, do you want an overworked, stressed-out nurse at the end of a 16- or 20-hour shift taking care of you during a critical situation? Of course you don't. Unsafe staffing isn't just a nurse issue. It's a public safety issue."

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