Unionized nurses at seven Minnesota hospitals say they have cast a vote of no confidence in hospital management, increasing pressure on negotiations over wages, benefits and working conditions.
“As a result of corporate health care policies enforced by hospital executives … hospitals are understaffed, nurses are overworked and patients are overcharged,” said Chelsea Schafter, a nurse practitioner at M Health Fairview. Riverside in Minneapolis.
Nurses announced the no-confidence vote to executives from four health systems — Fairview Health Services, Children’s Minnesota, North Memorial Health and St. Luke’s Duluth — Tuesday outside the University of Minnesota, where M Health leaders Fairview and Allina Health spoke. about the future of the health care industry. The nurses held a second news conference Tuesday in Duluth, outside St. Luke’s.
Hospital representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The nurses’ combative stance with their employers comes after two grueling years of the pandemic followed by skyrocketing inflation, which they say has cemented their determination to win significant pay raises and higher staffing levels, even if it means going to bed. strike.
“Thank you is not enough,” said Tricia Ryshkus, a nurse at Children’s Minneapolis. “Show us how grateful you are in the contract negotiations.”
The Minnesota Nurses Association is currently negotiating three-year contracts covering about 15,000 nurses at 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth.
The day after their contracts expired in June, the nurses came out swinging against hospital executives with picketing in the Twin Cities and a publicity campaign targeting high executive salaries.
They noted that many hospital CEOs have enjoyed double-digit compensation increases in recent years, while nurses’ pay has not kept pace with inflation.
M Health Fairview CEO James Hereford received total compensation of $3.55 million in 2019, a 90% increase from 2018. At Children’s Health Care, CEO Mark Gorelick received total compensation of $1, 49 million in 2020. That was just a 2% increase from 2019, but it was on top of a 47% increase in compensation he received the year before.
Unionized nurses in Twin Cities metro hospitals, by contrast, received 2-3% annual raises over the last three years, which some nurses voluntarily gave up during the pandemic.
The nurses’ strategy of waging an aggressive public campaign against hospital leadership is supported by a survey showing the public’s widespread contempt for hospital CEOs and widespread appreciation for nurses. In a survey conducted by the union, only 11% of respondents said they viewed hospital executives favorably, while 84% said they viewed nurses favorably.
“Ask any of my patients at three in the morning who they trust the most, it’s the nurses,” said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and an intensive care nurse at North Memorial.
“And I certainly don’t see any of these health care industry executives at 3 in the morning taking care of patients,” he said.
One of the main concerns nurses raised is chronic staffing shortages in hospitals, which they say has created a downward spiral as exhausted nurses leave the profession.
Contrary to the popular assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic caused nurses to get out of bed, a survey conducted by the union found that the most common reason nurses quit was “management issues,” followed by staffing shortages and then the pandemic. A national survey of nurses found about half are considering leaving the field in the next year, mainly due to the levels of “unsafe staff”.
Earlier this year, the nursing shortage became so dire that the governor appropriated federal relief funds to pay an employment agency $275 an hour or more for temporary nurses in beleaguered hospitals.
The nurses’ union claims there are enough registered nurses in the state, while a change in management could see nurses return to work at a lower cost than itinerant nurses. They pointed to the fact that Minnesota now has the most registered nurses in state history, 120,000, with 14,000 new registered nurses coming in the last three years despite the pandemic.
The union hopes to gain more control over staffing levels through its contracts with hospitals, after state lawmakers rejected a bill in the last legislative session called the “Keep Nurses at the Bedside Act,” which would have required hospitals to implement a staffing plan approved by a committee made up of nurses and managers.
Since their contracts expired, nurses at 15 hospitals could call a strike at virtually any time. That would require thousands of nurses to rally behind such an aggressive approach.
While negotiations over the last contract went relatively smoothly, in 2016, Allina’s nurses were on strike for 37 daysjust one day before the longest nursing strike in the state in 1984.
Last month, the Minnesota Nurses Association suffered one of its most significant losses in recent memory when 500 nurses at Mayo Clinic’s Mankato hospital disbanded their union after more than 70 years. Nurses who opposed the union cited, in part, the militant approach the union took with hospital leaders.
When asked about the recent vote, Turner said there were many nurses who supported the union and blamed outside lobbying by the National Foundation for the Right to Work, which provided free legal assistance to the campaign.
“All that rhetoric you hear about how we’re combative, that’s all their rhetoric,” Turner said. “My heart bleeds for (the nurses) right now…because things are going to change and it’s not going to be for the better.”
The contracts the nurses are currently negotiating are at hospitals managed by Allina Health, Fairview Health Services, HealthPartners, North Memorial Health, Children’s Minnesota, St. Luke’s Hospital Duluth and Essentia Duluth.