Twin Cities and Twin Ports nurses win historic contracts
15,000 nurses in 15 hospitals ratify new agreements
Fifteen thousand nurses with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) at 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports voted overwhelmingly to ratify new three-year contracts in mid December, averting a planned strike.
As we celebrate the ratification of our new contracts, we are also looking ahead. Nurses will continue to oppose corporate health care mergers, like those being pursued by M Health Fairview and Essentia Health, and we will be reintroducing the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act at the Minnesota Legislature this session.
“With these contracts, the staffing levels set by our hospital executives will never get worse than they are today, as nurses won a new voice in the process and better protections to appeal for the safe staffing levels we need,” said Mary C. Turner, RN at North Memorial Hospital and president of MNA. “This is a historic victory for nurses and patients at the bedside, but our work is not done. Nurses will continue fighting to oppose the corporate health care policies that threaten our hospital systems and the care our patients deserve.”
The new contracts include new language to address chronic understaffing in our hospitals for the first time in history. For decades, MNA nurses have fought for contract language and legislation to ensure safe staffing at the bedside, while hospital executives denied the problem and insisted on the status quo.
“The conditions inside Minnesota hospitals the last few years have evolved into something the likes of which I have not seen in my 14-year career,” said Kelley Anaas, RN, from Abbott Northwestern Hospital and a member of the negotiating team for Allina nurses. “Long wait times, patients being seen and treated in emergency department waiting rooms, full hospital units with one or two nurses scheduled to work, nurses new to the profession training in more brand-new nurses, hospital units where the highest experience level of a nurse on shift is six months. Six months! Everyone should care about this.”
Staffing changes won by MNA nurses in the contracts will give nurses a say in how staffing levels are set and to ensure changes to staffing levels benefit nurses and patients at the bedside. Staffing changes won by nurses include language to prevent reductions in staffing levels without consensus between nurses and management; to help protect nurses from discipline when they raise concerns about unsafe assignments; and to trigger reviews of staffing levels by nurses and management in response to key measures of patient and nurse well-being and outcomes.
“It took nine months of negotiations for our hospital executives to understand that nurses would not back down in the fight for better care and working conditions in our hospitals,” said Chris Rubesch, RN at Essentia in Duluth and first vice president of MNA. “These contracts are a critical step to address the chronic short-staffing and other corporate health care policies hurting patients and nurses at the bedside. Now, we must pass the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act to ensure safe staffing levels to retain nurses and protect patient care in communities throughout Minnesota.”
In addition to the new contracts at these 15 hospitals where nurses have been negotiating since March, nurses at Essentia Moose Lake also ratified a three-year contract, their first with Essentia since the hospital chain purchased their community clinic more than two years ago.
Along with staffing language, the contracts for the 15 hospitals include historic pay raises of 18 percent over three years for nurses in the Twin Cities, and 17 percent for nurses in the Twin Ports, with pay retroactive to the previous contract’s expiration. These wage increases represent the largest won by MNA nurses in over two decades. These new contracts will help to retain nurses at the bedside. Along with improved wages and staffing language, several contracts won additional gains, including workplace safety protections.
“We know the pandemic has played a role in this increasingly fractured system,” Kelley Anaas, RN, added. “However it cannot continue to be the scapegoat for corporate greed and a failure of leadership to listen to their front lines. It is my fervent hope that these contracts represent the beginning and not the end of the listening.”
Nurses are resolved to continue the fight against the corporate health care practices that have understaffed our hospitals for years and that threaten to put profits before patients in our hospitals.
“What the past nine months have taught me and all of us,” said Tricia Ryshkus, a nurse at Children’s Minneapolis, “is that when we organize and have solidarity, we win. When our collective bargaining process is honored, we win.”
Nurses are fighting against corporate health care mergers and monopolies that threaten choice, access, and affordability of health care for Minnesotans, and will continue the fight for safe staffing levels at the Minnesota Legislature next session.