First there was the crowd. Then there were the signs. Then there were the red uniforms that adorned every man, woman, and child in the auditorium. The scene was set for a champion sports team to walk in the room, but this huge crowd was there to see the contract negotiators. When they entered the room, more than 225 nurses and their families cheered and applauded to show solidarity with their elected bargaining team at the Essentia-St. Mary’s contract talks and bid good morning to management’s team. In the end, nurses won an agreement with management they could say is the result of hard work by the negotiating team, but also because nurses showed Essentia that nurses are united and strong.
“It was fabulous-awesome, just awesome,” said Mary Kirsling, RN, a member of the nurse negotiating team, “I was overwhelmed by the turnout. We exceeded our expectations.”
Nurses at St. Mary’s used their well-established Member Action Teams (MATs) to map out the entire hospital. They mobilized nurses to show up for the first day of negotiations using constantly refined lists of nurse’s names, emails, and phone numbers. With the MAT data, nurses estimate they talked to 80 percent of all the nurses in the hospital just over the last 10 days.
“We had people who were designated to come up and talk to people and commit to be here,” Kirsling said, “almost everyone in the house, every unit has a representation steward, and so they would talk to all the people in their unit and get five people to commit to be here.”
Essentia nurses got a bonus too. They supported St. Luke’s nurse contract bargaining team two months ago. Now the St. Luke’s team showed up to repay the favor.
“Nurses from St. Luke’s and people from Virginia, that’s a long way to drive and it’s nice to feel that support,” Kirsling said. “We’re going to show support for each other and we stand a lot more united today than we ever have in the history of MNA here. In the state, I think we feel a lot more solidarity with each other.”
Nurses knew from talking to each other that there was a lot riding on this contract. While wages are the main item on the table, Kirsling said nurses are standing together for time off to be properly educated to take care of their patients. Her fellow bargaining team member agreed.
“Nurses can’t just wing it everyday, and you don’t want to wing it for our patients. That’s not conducive to patient safety or good patient care,” said Kellie Brickson, RN, at Miller-Dwan, “you want educated nurses. We have to be ready to take care of whatever situation comes in.”
Brickson and Kirsling mentioned the constantly changing state of technology as an issue that nurses fight to stay on top of.
“If we were given time to do our required education away from patient care, that would help us. Sometimes we’re told that we just need to do it on downtime and we don’t always have downtime,” Brickson said.
“I don’t know if there’s a day gone by in my nursing career of some 42 years that I haven’t learned something,” Kirsling said.
“We are here to settle our contract because it’s important for our patients and for safe patient care. We would like to get good language so that we are better able to serve our patients and keep our patients safe,” Brickson added.
The huge turnout for the team showed that wheels are in motion to get that.
“I think it totally set the stage. Our CNO walked in and saw all those people with red on and knew that it wasn’t just 8 of us sitting at the table,” Kirsling said, “there’s thousands of us sitting at that table.”
On the afternoon of June 11, after nearly 33 straight hours of negotiations, the nurses bargaining team reached a tentative agreement with Essentia Management. The elected RN negotiating team unanimously recommends the agreement to the bargaining unit. Details include:
- Across the board Raises 4.5% over the next three years- 2 / 1.5% / 1 %
- $500 bonus every year for the next 3 years for St. Mary’s –Miller Dwan & St. Mary’s Superior RNs as well as St. Mary’s Superior LPNs
- Expansion of benefit bereavement leave and funeral leave for same sex partners
- Kentucky River Language to protect Assistant Head Nurses and other Bargaining Unit RNs
- Revision and renewal of staffing plan (grids) and other Letters of Understanding
- Accretion of Superior LPN and RN’s into the St. Mary’s – Miller Dwan Contract