By Stephanie Kowalik, RN, Children’s Hospital Minneapolis
When Children’s Hospitals of St. Paul and Minneapolis suddenly announced last September that part-time nurses (between .40 and .74 FTE) would start paying a higher percentage of health insurance premiums than full-time nurses, we were stunned and confused. Up until that time, part-timers between .40 and .74 FTE paid the same premium cost as full-time nurses.
It was an obvious attempt to divide part-time and full-time nurses and a clear violation of our contract. The decision to unilaterally impose such an unfair requirement only weeks before open enrollment brought nurses together to fight the hospital. There were many variables that the hospital neglected to consider and would not acknowledge when brought to their attention. This change affected many nurses who ultimately had no option to but to concede to the hospital’s new premium cost structure.
The hospital attempted to placate us by offering the chance to increase FTE; however, it was not a guarantee, nor was it an option for many, including myself.
We filed grievances and Unfair Labor Practice charges, resulting in the need for arbitration as the hospital refused to recognize the impact that this change would have on nurses.
Nurses proved that the hospital violated the terms of the contract; and that the policy harmed nurses who would suddenly have to pay higher premiums. Many nurses were forced into paying premiums that were not within their budgets, causing them financial hardship.
As a part-time nurse, this had a major effect on my family and me. I am a single mom of a child who sees specialists frequently and I had to enroll in a plan with lesser coverage and still pay over $1,000 more in annual deductibles. Even if I had been able to increase my FTE, I couldn’t change my hours because I needed the flexibility to pick up additional shifts as my schedule allowed so that I could take care of my son. Although my contracted FTE is considered part time, I pick up a considerable number of hours for the hospital but was not eligible to receive the lower rate of insurance premiums, and I knew I wasn’t alone. It was frustrating to feel that the efforts I made for the hospital were completely ignored. This premium structure was going to be unsustainable for many of us.
Through the process of grievances and arbitration, as nurses, we stood our ground. Several of us testified at a hearing before an arbitrator in June, showing the impact of the changes that Children’s inflicted on us. I was one of those who had the opportunity to testify.
I have never been in a situation like that. I’m a nurse. I don’t make public speeches and have never been in a board room to make an official statement before. I knew that this was my chance to make my story heard and to give a voice to other nurses. As I sat there and listened to the lawyers go back and forth, I knew that personal stories were not their focus, but I wanted to make them see that this was much more than an issue of contract verbiage: it was something that had real consequences on the lives of Children’s nurses. I broke down the pay structure, so they could see exactly how much more I was paying and how unreasonable it was.
Last week, we learned that the arbitrator agreed that Children’s violated MNA nurses’ contracts – and ordered back pay for any of us who had been subject to the change.
Nurses are thrilled with this ruling. It shows that we have a voice and we do have the support to counter the hospitals’ actions and make them see that they can’t make unfair, unilateral decisions and expect nurses to accept them without argument. We will fight for what is right and what is fair.
The arbitrator’s ruling is a win for all MNA nurses. It shows once again that nurses have power and we can accomplish anything when we work together!