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Minnesota Nurses Strike

by Kim DeFranco |
June 1, 2001
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Nurses on the picket line. Health care workers are overworked and underpaid. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)

Minneapolis, MN - Nurses at two hospitals, Fairview Southdale and Fairview Riverside, went on strike demanding better pay, along with better and safer working conditions. 13 other area hospitals ended up settling their contracts.

Jan Rabbers, Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) spokesperson, told Fight Back! that the administration should get off their 60-foot yachts and come back to the bargaining table. "Nurses are concerned about patient care. Hospitals should have put a contingency plan in place 3 years ago to deal with the nurses' concerns. Nurses are concerned about staffing issues, low pay, and having a say in patients' care."

Rabbers continued, "With the replacement workers, the hospitals are staffing two nurses per patient. Before the strike, the ratio was one nurse to five or ten patients. They were working 16-plus hours doing two to five straight shifts in a row. The administration doesn't care about the safety of the patients and the nurses' well being. The nurses and the MNA have evidence that the administration put profits over patient care. They refuse to come to the floor and see what is happening and to watch the decisions they make play out. They put all the responsibility onto the nurses."

Rabbers declared, "People believe that the nurses are the second highest paid profession, but in reality it's at best the eleventh. During the past 3 years, any wage increase was eaten away by insurance payments, while the administration doesn't pay anything. "

The Minnesota Nurses Association states that no matter what scale people compare current nursing wages against, the administration is not solving today's staffing problems, and doing nothing to stop tomorrow's looming disaster. Hospitals refused to negotiate the nurses' demands in a meaningful way.

Nursing Shortage

Jacuie Louman, registered nurse and chief steward at Fairview Southdale, stated, "Since the last contract, the nurses have seen an increase in the shortage of nurses. Their workload increases, while the nurses' input into patient flow, staffing issues and levels decreases. This profession needs to draw more people."

"Nurses are choosing to leave because they don't feel accountable ethically and morally. It takes a toll on the nurses' well being emotionally and on their health," she added.

Contract Controversy

Hours before the strike, a contract vote at another hospital, Abbot Northwestern, led to sharp divisions in the Minnesota Nurses Association. The first vote count indicated acceptance of the contract by a single vote. The MNA told the Abbot Northwestern administration that the nurses ratified the contract. A recount held later indicated the contract indeed was voted down, but labor law required they stay on the job. A group of nurses founded Nurses for Change to challenge the union leadership.

Among progressives in the labor movement there have been critical voices raised concerning the conduct of the MNA leadership. For example, after a proposed contract was negotiated at one hospital, union officials kept it secret from the members until shortly before the ratification vote. The employer already knew what was in it, so the only possible motive could be an attempt to limit discussion and debate among the membership.


Sue Buesgens, Minnesota Nurses Association representative and chair of the negotiation team at Fairview-Riverside Southdale, is not happy with the replacements, "The nurses have heard that there are more bumps in the road then the administration is letting the public know about. I heard that the replacements have shortages of nurses in their own states and they should just go home. The administration is putting more money into those workers instead of the nurses here that have been loyal to the hospitals for years. We are striking because we as nurses are speaking out for our profession, which includes those replacements. It's hard."

The Strike Line

Louman commented that the strike is going well, moral is up, and the nurses are staying strong. Nurses from hospitals that ratified contracts swelled the strikers' picket lines. "We had tremendous help from the other hospitals that have settled," said Louman.

On the picket line, Judy Langford, Adult Mental Healthcare worker at Fairview Southdale, states that she "is tired of working short staffed." Other nurses like her were being called in to work the night shift. "Before the strike, there were no regular nurses to work the night shift. They [the administration] can't pull nurses out of a hat. It's not a safe place." She knows nurses that are leaving the profession to find other careers because of the fatigue and stress of the job. A nurse she knows that has worked for 20-plus years "just can't take it anymore."

Buesgens stated that the striking nurses have been getting support from others. "It's overwhelming. Local unions, other nurses, even internationally." She wonders how they are going to pay them all back. The way to pay them back is to win the strike because you will win one for the working people and unions everywhere.

As Fight Back! goes to press, a settlement was ratified at both striking hospitals.