Nurses flex collective muscle with three ratifications, two tentative agreements within five days
Celebratory emails were lighting up MNA inboxes for five straight days as announcement after announcement arrived of contract victories all over the state.
146 nurses at Mayo Clinic Health Systems in Austin, MN started the buzz with a contract ratification on Wed., May 28. 114 Mayo colleagues 40 miles away approved their agreement just one day later. On Monday, it was 287 nurses at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center in northwest Minnesota who ratified their contract.
The run continued on Tuesday, with two notices of tentative agreements. Negotiators for 1202 nurses at Hennepin County Medical Center and 128 nurses at Grand Itasca Hospital and Clinic in Grand Rapids, MN reached deals they could recommend to their bargaining units.
“What an awesome week,” remarked MNA Interim Executive Director Julia Stewart. “These are strong contracts and agreements, secured by strong, determined nurses who want the best for their patients.”
All of the ratifications include improvements to wages and benefits, while rejecting management proposals that would diminish nurses’ ability to provide the quality care their patients deserve.
In Austin, nurses achieved a new level of authority in which they will have a say in scheduling and staffing. MNA Co-Chair Shelby Bell knows the nurses will seize the opportunity to reduce the existing chaos on the units. Under current terms, nurses do not have control over what hours or what shift they work. In any one week, a nurse may work a day, evening and night shift. “Sometimes you don’t know if you are coming or going,” said Bell. “What does that do to patient safety?”
Austin and Albert Lea nurses also made significant gains in parity to the insurance and retirement packages of their Mayo colleagues, including the top-scale nurses in Rochester, where Mayo hopes to establish a self-described “destination medical center.” “I’m hopeful this new contract will address the patient safety concerns we’ve had and honor the limits to what nurses can do,” said Chair Kathy Lehman. “Nurses want the community to know we have their best interests at heart and want to exceed their expectations. This contract helps us do that.”
Sanford Bemidji corporate management proposed policies that drove nurses to a “sick in” on a cold day in March. Nurses successfully fought back in contract negotiations due in large part to the solidarity members demonstrated. The group also won a 25-year step increase as well as 6% wage increases over the life of the contract.
Details for the tentative agreements will be made public after nurses vote at HCMC on June 10 and at Grand Itasca on June 12.
Stewart also noted MNA’s “Spring Surge” of collective activity was a fitting tribute the courage of nurse colleagues who took historic action 30 years ago on June 1, beginning the nation’s largest nursing strike at the time. The strike lasted 37 days and resulted in an important victory for seniority rights. It also spurred new, fiery energy among bargaining unit members around the power of collective action and their contract. “Nurses today know they stand on the foundation formed by colleagues who took action for their principles,” said Stewart. “These settlements continue to honor those principles – and those remarkable nurses.