At a glance: Nurses contract talks

Sahra Yusuf and Tenzin Dechen
Abbott Northwestern Hospital nurses Sahra Yusuf, left, and Tenzin Dechen cast their ballots for new labor contacts at the River Centre in St. Paul Wednesday, May 19, 2010. Minnesota Nurses Association representatives said up to 12,000 nurses from six hospital systems in the metro are expected to vote on the contracts.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

MAJOR ISSUES IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS:

--Staffing levels: All six nurse bargaining units want hospitals to set aside more money to pay for more nurses. They would like the hospitals to budget all units at no less than 115 percent of capacity, and jointly develop a staffing plan that takes into account the severity of a patient's illness and the nursing resources needed to care for that patient. In some cases, they are asking hospitals to set nurse to patient ratios for particular units.

--Shift cancellations: The hospitals want to increase the number of days that they can cancel a nurse's shift at the last minute from 3 to 15 annually. Nurses say that change would force many nurses to use vacation time in order to get paid for those days.

--Pension: The hospitals have proposed cutting the nurses' defined benefit pension fund. They say many other employers stopped offering that type of pension plan, and that stock market losses have forced them to put millions of extra dollars in reserves. The nurses say the proposal will reduce their retirement benefit by one-third.

--Salaries: The nurses have asked for a 4.5 percent salary increase for each of the next three years. The hospitals are proposing 0 percent (first year), 1 percent (second year), and 2 percent (third year).

--Disaster response: Nurses are asking for contract language requiring that proper equipment and planning are in place to protect patients in case of disease outbreaks such as the H1N1 virus.

--Technology: Nurses are asking for contract language that ensures patient care is enhanced by new technology.

PREVIOUS STRIKES:

--In 2001, 1,350 Fairview nurses at two hospitals went on strike, while nurses at other metro hospitals approved new contracts.

--In 1984, all 6,000 nurses covered by the union's contract went on strike. It is still the largest nursing strike in U.S. history. It lasted for about five weeks.

HOSPITALS AFFECTED BY THE STRIKE:

Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Bethesda Hospital, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Fairview Southdale Hospital, Mercy Hospital, North Memorial Medical Center, Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, Phillips Eye Institute, St. John's Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, United Hospital, Unity Hospital and the Riverside campus of University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

HOSPITALS NOT AFFECTED BY POTENTIAL STRIKE:

--Regions Hospital in St. Paul; Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury; and the Maple Grove Hospital, because their nurses are not unionized.

--Hennepin County Medical Center; the University Minnesota Medical Center University Campus in Minneapolis; and Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, have different contract cycles with their union nurses. The current negotiations don't apply to them.

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