More than 9,000 Minnesota nurses voted Wednesday night against accepting contracts offered by six Twin Cities hospital systems representing 14 facilities, in effect authorizing what will be the largest nursing strike in U.S. history should a contract agreement fail to be reached before June 1. More than 12,000 registered nurses would participate.
Ninety percent of the nurses who voted turned down the contract offer, citing under-staffing as a primary concern. Many of the nurses feel that in lieu of nursing shortages, they have had to take on more duties than they can handle, leading to patient safety issues.
"This vote wasn't about us," Minnesota Nurses Association president Linda Hamilton said, according to an MNA release. "[I]t was about making sure everyone who walks through the doors of our hospitals has access to the safest and highest-quality nursing care possible."
To minimize patient risk, Hamilton said the strike of the six hospital systems--Allina, Children's, Fairview, HealthEast, North Memorial and Park Nicollet--will be scheduled for one day only. However, according to Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for the hospitals, money issues and the short turnaround time may leave the hospitals no other choice but to hire temporary nurses for a longer period of time, forcing a more lengthy lockout of the unionized nurses. The Pioneer Press reports it would cost roughly $15 million between salaries, recruitment bonuses, travel expenses and lodging to bring in temporary nurses.
"[Switching to and from temporary nurses over a two-day span] is not a car driving down the street that can take a U-turn," Schriner said. "This is like [turning around] a train."
For their part, the hospitals are pushing to have more flexibility in terms of sending nurses home on "low-need days" and calling on them during busier days. The hospitals insist that simply budgeting more nursing hours would lead to millions of dollars that ultimately would just get passed along to a general public already fed up with the high cost of healthcare.
"The hospitals think we're putting forward a reasonable effort to negotiate, and we're expecting a reasonable effort back from the union," Schriner told the Press. "But the union keeps focusing on a strike."