Minnesota hospitals could see largest nursing strike in U.S. history

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The now-concluded month-long strike at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia was the biggest recent flashpoint in hospital-labor relations, but it's far from the only bad blood. Hospitals in Minnesota, California and Massachusetts are involved in contentious situations with nursing unions.

In Minnesota, the largest nursing strike in U.S. history could be around the corner. Fourteen nonprofit hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region could face a June 1 strike by 12,000 nurses depending on the outcome of a May 19 strike vote by the Minnesota Nurses Union, reports the Star-Tribune. The nurses union accuses the hospitals of using the recession as an excuse to reduce pension benefits and change work practices. The hospitals have created contingency plans to prepare for a strike. One California staffing agency has sent out emails advertising for 2,000 replacement workers at wages as high as $4,770 a week, which is three times the pay of most union nurses.

The nurses will be holding pickets over the next two weeks in a bid for public support. Meanwhile, several of the hospitals banded together to run newspaper ads to counteract what they call unacceptable attacks that unfairly jeopardize public confidence, reports the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

In California, the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), an independent nursing union, has submitted a counterproposal to try to break a deadlock in contract negotiations with Stanford Hospital and Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, reports the Stanford Daily News. The two sides began negotiating in January but failed to reach a compromise before the nurses' contract expired in March. On March 31, the hospitals presented their "last, best and final" offer. That offer was rejected in mid-April. CRONA's counterproposal accepts the hospitals' wage proposals, but seeks other changes, including how a new professional development program will be set up and how paid time off is accrued and compensated.

Both the hospitals and the union are legally obligated to abide by the old contract until a new one is in place. However, the hospitals could attempt to enforce their "last, best and final" proposal by declaring an impasse. If they do so, the nurses could potentially go on strike, says CRONA lead attorney Peter Nussbaum.

In Boston, contract negotiations don't appear to be currently at stake, but registered nurses at Tufts Medical Center are nonetheless taking a hard line with hospital management. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has fined Tufts $5,000 for failing to meet workplace safety reporting requirements after investigating a complaint filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA). As part of the settlement agreement with OSHA, Tufts also will post a public notice detailing its lapses in tracking nurse injuries, including needlesticks. Earlier this year, RNs at Tufts staged an informational picket to protest what they described as "dangerous changes" in RN staffing levels that hospital management made without negotiating with the MNA.

To learn more:
- read this Star Tribune article
- read this Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal article
- read this Stanford Daily News article
- read this Stanford Hospital press release
- read these MNA press releases: release 1 or release 2

Related Articles:
Temple U. negotiates union deal to end 28-day nursing strike
Labor relations: Letting hospital contract issues turn into strikes can be costly