After the nurses strike, what's next?

Nurses strike in Minneapolis
Nurses picketed down Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis Thursday, June 10, 2010. More than 12,000 nurses at 14 metro hospitals conducted a 24-hour strike after contract negotiations reached a stalemate.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Thousands of Minnesota nurses ended their picketing and returned to work Friday morning after a 24-hour strike, without a contract and with the same complaints that fueled their walkout.

The 12,000 nurses who walked off the job at 14 Twin Cities hospitals are demanding strict nurse-patient ratios. But the hospitals say such ratios are unnecessary and would increase costs without improving patient safety.

Both sides are calling on the other to move towards more negotiations.

Union officials say the one-day strike was a success. Spokesman John Nemo says the strike sent a clear message to hospital management that nurses are serious about their demands.

"It brought 12,000 nurses in the Twin Cities together for one goal: To walk for their patients," said Nemo. "I don't think you can ever put a pricetag or any kind of calculation on what that did for our nurses' solidarity and their spirit -- to stay together for this. They realize that this is something that the entire nation is watching."

The union wants to reduce the hospitals' ability to "float" nurses from department to department and to order hospitals to shut down units, with some exceptions, at 90 percent capacity. The union claims those steps will improve patient safety.

Hospital officials are not budging on their position, either. Hospitals spokeswoman Maureen Schriner says the union needs to reconsider the hospitals' proposals.

Nurses picketing
Nurses picket in front of United Hospital in St. Paul on June 10, 2010 during their one-day strike against Twin Cities Hospitals.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"The hospitals have put forward a reasonable proposal for a new contract, and the facts are that our hospitals lead the nation in patient safety and quality of care," she said. "Our nurses are among the highest paid in the country, and the hospitals are putting forward a reasonable proposal given the situation that we are in."

Friday began with accusations by the nurses union that some hospitals were not following contract procedures for calling nurses back to work.

There were also accusations of lockouts. The union says Abbott Northwestern, Children's in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and United Hospital each illegally locked out nurses.

Hospitals officials say they announced their post-strike protocol in advance of the strike, and that they told nurses not to report to work Friday unless called.

Nemo, the nurses union spokesman, says the union plans to file charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.

Ona Keller, an MNA union organizer from Minneapolis, claimed she was assaulted and injured by a security official in the lobby of North Memorial Hospital. Keller says she was treated at the hospital and released.

Robert Prevost, a spokesman for North Memorial, released a statement Friday saying "we are aware of the allegation made by MNA this morning. Robbinsdale Police was notified and responded to North Memorial Medical Center. No action was taken by Robbinsdale Police.

"North Memorial also conducted an internal investigation, including interviews with several individuals present during the alleged incident. This internal investigation concluded there was no merit to the allegation," Prevost said.

Robbinsdale police Friday afternoon said no charges have yet been filed related to the incident.

The hospitals prepared for the strike by bringing in extra non-union staff, hiring 2,800 replacement nurses and reducing patient counts by transferring patients to non-affected hospitals.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, chief medical officer of Allina Hospitals & Clinics, said the preparations paid off, that patients at all of the affected hospitals received quality care with no major problems.

There could soon be evidence to back up that claim.

Darcy Miner, Director of Compliance Monitoring at the state Department of Health, says the department will review any reports submitted by its six nurse investigators who observed conditions at the 14 hospitals during the strike.

Miner says right now it's unclear whether any of the findings will warrant further review by the state.

"If it should lead to any investigation, our investigative process can take days or weeks," she said. "If we did do a formal investigation, those results are always made public once the investigation is concluded."

So far, no new talks are scheduled. Union officials say future strikes are possible if the the two sides can't reach an agreement.

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