ST. PAUL (July 6, 2010) - Demonstrating the incredible solidarity that was the hallmark of their lengthy campaign, Twin Cities nurses voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ratify a new contract with 14 area hospitals.
"It's been a long three-plus months, but the nurses I'm talking to tonight have a healthy mixture of relief and resolve," said Cindy Olson, an RN at St. John's Hospital in Maplewood and a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association bargaining team. "Relief that we finally have a contract in front of us that we could ratify, and resolve to make sure we finish the job when it comes to attaining the safe staffing levels our patients and our profession deserve."
Nurses spent the day voting at two different locations - one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul - to ratify a new three-year labor agreement that covers 12,000 nurses at 14 different metro hospitals.
Nurses approved a contract that had zero concessions or take backs from the Hospitals - a rarity in today's economic climate. Nurses successfully fought to maintain safe staffing language already in their contract related to a nurse's right to close a unit when it becomes unsafe to admit any more patients. RNs also fought off an attempt by the Twin Cities Hospitals to "float" RNs to any unit at any hospital at any time, a practice nurses say would be unsafe for their patients.
In addition, the nurses' pension - which has been in place since the early 1960s - remains untouched, as do numerous other benefits and provisions aimed at recruiting and maintaining the best nurses in the country to work in the Twin Cities.
Much of the talk Tuesday was about the next steps surrounding the Minnesota Nurses' unwavering commitment to achieve safe staffing levels at hospitals throughout the state.
"It's true that we didn't get the perfect settlement when it came to having specific language written into our contract regarding nurse-to-patient ratios," Olson said. "But we've been fighting this fight for safe staffing since the early 1990s. And the efforts of our nurses the past three months have not been in vain. This was not an all-or-nothing situation. The battle for safe staffing didn't end with this contract agreement. In many ways, it's only just beginning."
Olson said the intense media coverage this spring and summer of the contract dispute between Nurses and the Hospitals significantly raised public awareness about the unsafe staffing issue while simultaneously uniting more than 12,000 nurses around the cause.
"We've been fighting this fight for safe staffing for a long time, but I don't think in all my years as a nurse I've ever seen us this unified," Olson said. "We generated so much momentum internally as a union and externally with the public and politicians, and we're not about to let that go to waste."
The Minnesota Nurses Association is planning to unveil a multi-faceted Safe Staffing Campaign in the coming weeks, according to MNA Spokesman John Nemo.
"Our nurses are going to stand together like never before inside and outside our hospitals," he said. "I think it's safe to say our nurses are really going to be holding the hospitals' feet to the fire when it comes to their renewed commitment to openly and collaboratively discussing staffing issues with our nurses."
Olson said that in addition to nurses taking a stronger, more unified stand inside hospitals when it comes to the contract language already in place regarding safe staffing, MNA members will also spend significant time and energy continuing to educate the public and politicians about the issue and what needs to be done.
"That's why we all became nurses in the first place - for our patients," she said. "I love my patients and I love my families. And I'm not going to stop fighting for them until we get the safe staffing levels in place that they deserve."