Nurses land pay raises, new injury protections

Minnesota Nurses Association members.
Minnesota Nurses Association members stage an informational picket outside Children's Minnesota in St. Paul, May 23, 2019. The nurses union has reached tentative contract agreements with five Twin Cities hospital systems.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

In a departure from contentious contract negotiations in the past, the Minnesota Nurses Association has reached tentative contract agreements with five Twin Cities hospital systems, including four more announced Tuesday and Wednesday.

In 2016, Allina Health nurses spent 47 days on strike in a failed attempt to keep their union-only health insurance coverage.

This year, the process is wrapping up without any strikes.

Late Tuesday night, Fairview, Methodist, and HealthEast hospitals agreed to annual wage increases of 3 percent, 3 percent, and 2.25 percent respectively over three years.

And at 3 a.m. Wednesday, Allina Health reached the same raise agreement — leaving North Memorial as the last hospital still in negotiations. Nurses at Children's Minnesota reached a tentative agreement last week. The rank and file vote on that Thursday.

Allina nurse negotiator Angie Becchetti said the talks did go better than last time, but it wasn't exactly a smooth process.

"It was a different tone," she said, "but they didn't make it easy for us. If Allina cared about our concerns, they would have sat down with us after 2016, and we wouldn't have had to re-enter negotiations this year."

According to Ericka Helling, a union negotiator at Fairview Hospital, the biggest victory had nothing to do with raises. The agreements included new protections for nurses who are injured on the job.

"Over the last ten years we've been dealing with more and more violent patients," Helling said. "People with substance abuse or mental health issues. Sometimes they lash out and we get hurt."

Until now, the system for dealing with those violent injuries was flawed, she said. A nurse who was injured had to use sick time to recover. And when injured nurses returned to work, they were often asked to care for the same violent patient.

It took many hours of heated negotiation, Helling said, but all the new agreements include 72 hours of paid time off for recovery, training for de-escalating violent situations and scheduling flexibility, so nurses won't have to take care of patients who have abused them.

"The health systems finally acknowledged that this is happening to us," she said. "That's monumental."

Nurses in the latest round of settlements will vote on the tentative agreements next week.

Health system officials refused interview requests, but Andrea Mokros, Senior Vice President at the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, released a statement on behalf of Fairview, Methodist, and HealthEast hospitals.

"These agreements represent advances in workplace safety, wages and other key issues, and allow hospitals and nurses to continue to provide the very best care to patients every day, together."