News Update Minnnesota Strike

  1. Found at from Star Tribune:

    Five hospitals make tentative deals with nurses
    Jill Burcum and Maura Lerner
    Star Tribune
    Thursday, May 31, 2001

    Seven more metro-area hospitals are returning to the bargaining table with their nurses today, following news that five other hospitals have reached tentative settlement agreements that would avert a strike by registered nurses.

    Negotiators for nurses and managers at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park resumed talks at noon today, a week after they broke off. And earlier today, a federal mediator called back bargainers from Fairview Health Services, which owns two hospitals facing a possible strike.

    Allina Health System, which owns four affected hospitals, announced it is planning to return to the table. Talks involve nurses at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and United Hospital in St. Paul.

    The nurses' contracts expire at midnight, and they are poised to set up picket lines at 5:30 Friday morning.

    Fairview officials said they were hopeful an agreement could be reached. But Jan Rabbers, spokeswoman for the nurses' union, said today that the resumption of talks did not necessarily signal an end to the strike threat.

    "Each of these bargaining tables are very independent and they have their own practice issues and economic issues and areas that are specific to them," Rabbers said. "They just still feel so far apart."

    The latest tentative agreement was reached early today between Children's Hospitals and Clinics and the Minnesota Nurses Association, the union for the nurses. The union extended the strike deadline by 24 hours at these hospitals, to give nurses a chance to vote on the plan on Friday.

    The union said it plans to provide details of the agreement directly to the 1,200 nurses involved on Friday.

    Meanwhile, 1,100 nurses at the three HealthEast hospitals are voting today on a tentative agreement reached yesterday, which calls for a 20.8 percent pay raise over three years.

    The agreement would avert a strike St. Joseph's and Bethesda Rehabilitation hospitals in St. Paul and St. John's Hospital in Maplewood.

    Fairview spokesman Allan Johnson said this morning that the latest tentative deals were hopeful signs that a strike could be averted at the Fairview hospitals -- Fairview Southdale Hospital of Edina and Fairview-University Medical Center's Riverside campus in Minneapolis.

    Rabbers, however, said she was not optimistic that a settlement will be reached at Fairview in time to avert a strike. In particular, she said, little progress had been made on pay issues.

    "There is nothing in that (Fairview) contract that nurses feel offers them anything different than what they rejected on May 17," Rabbers said.

    The two sides also have not resolved differences over working conditions and practice issues, she added.

    The bitter labor dispute had threatened to empty 12 Twin Cities hospitals of more than 7,700 registered nurses.

    "We're very happy for HealthEast and the nurses and the community there, but I don't know what this means for any of the other hospitals," said Shireen Gandhi-Kozel, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership, after the first settlement Wednesday.

    Rabbers said it's too soon to tell whether settlements at some hospitals may put pressure on nurses at remaining hospitals to settle. Rabbers, however, said nurses have prepared all along for a strike at a handful of hospitals if others settled.

    Rabbers also said that that a full-page ad by the hospital group had enraged some members and amounted to negotiating in the media instead of at the bargaining table.

    "There's always an ounce of optimism in me," Rabbers said today, "[but] I do think it's likely you will find striking people tomorrow."

    The union, in announcing the HeathEast agreement, said both sides of the bargaining table recognized the hospital group's fragile financial situation. Unlike the other hospital groups, HealthEast has been struggling financially for years.

    The surprise agreement at HealthEast was reached as both sides made last-minute preparations for a full-scale walkout.

    Orientation began for hundreds of replacement nurses who streamed in from other parts of the country, while unionized nurses put the finishing touches on their picket signs.

    Nurses have said they want more control over staffing levels to ensure that there's enough staff to take care of patients safely.

    Earlier Wednesday, nurses from Fairview-University Medical Center's Riverside campus gathered in a church basement to sign up for picketing duty and prepare for the walkout.

    "It feels almost like a bad divorce," said Janis Chapman, 50, a Fairview nurse since 1986. "I'm unhappy to have to do this, but we have to."

    Sadia Hussein, 23, who just started nursing in March, said she's ready to walk out as well. "I was an interpreter before I became a nurse, and I got paid more when I was an interpreter and I did less," she said. "It's not a field right now -- if they don't change -- that I would recommend."

    Nancy Neidt, a mental health nurse, said her colleagues seemed pretty united as the strike deadline neared. "I'm not getting the impression that there's second thoughts," she said. "We're in this to make improvements, to make change."

    The hospitals have said they will remain open, using replacement nurses to help fill gaps left by the striking nurses. The replacements were lured to Minnesota by agencies that advertised for strike staffers on their Web sites, offering $40 an hour, free transportation, housing and other perks. The replacement nurses would receive a fee even if a strike is averted.

    -- Staff writers Kavita Kumar, Glenn Howatt and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.

    -- Maura Lerner is at .
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