Hospitals

Some (hopefully) final thoughts on the averted Minnesota nurses strike

If all goes to plan, the 12,000 nurses of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) will approve today a new three year contract with Twin Cities hospitals. Life will return to normal. Or will it? The MNA’s labor spat with metro hospitals was a strange one- a 24 hour strike, the nurses’ top spokesperson blowing his […]

If all goes to plan, the 12,000 nurses of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) will approve today a new three year contract with Twin Cities hospitals. Life will return to normal.

Or will it?

The MNA’s labor spat with metro hospitals was a strange one- a 24 hour strike, the nurses’ top spokesperson blowing his gasket, union negotiators rejecting a 11th hour offer only to accept a less generous one a day later.

Ooooh, my head hurts.

I say less generous based on the union’s often-stated number one goal: winning set nurse to patient ratios. Yet, this is what the nurses actually “won” :  a vague “commitment to addressing both parties’ staffing issues through the existing committee systems at the various hospitals.”

That sounds a lot less than the hospitals’ previous offer: “a letter of understanding to establish a collaborative effort with the union to develop a patient acuity system that explores overall nurse workload and patient distribution.”

At least that sounds new. Instead, after all of the posturing about patient safety, the MNA manages to get “existing committee systems.” Still the union claims victory.

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“This is not the end of the safe staffing crusade,” according to the MNA blog. ” Rather, it is the beginning! What was the public’s consciousness of the staffing issue back in February versus today?”

The real question is where will it be six months from now. For if raising the public’s consciousness was the union’s mission accomplished, one would assume the MNA would have accepted the hospital’s proposal to establish a new initiative to examine staffing levels.

The MNA originally said such a task force had been tried but proved worthless. Maybe that’s true. Still, a new effort would have kept the issue alive and show the public the MNA was able to win something tangible, however superficial, from the hospitals. “Existing committee systems” doesn’t exactly fire up the base, you know?

Of course there’s always the possibility the staffing ratios was a red herring. The union managed to win a three percent pay raise over three years and protect their pensions. Maybe old fashioned wages and benefits were the real issues after all.

“I feel duped,” a friend told me this weekend.

You can’t blame the public or the rank and file nurses for feeling this way. Faster than you can say “the French,” the union retreated from set staffing levels so quickly that it makes one suspicious of the MNA’s motives.

What the MNA did manage to do, if unwittingly, is expose the very deep fissures between doctors, nurses, and hospitals at a time when the three key medical groups must work together to navigate the treacherous waters of healthcare reform.

Give the severe shortage of nurses and primary doctors in the country, you would think the two groups would be natural allies. They’re not.

Hospitals spent millions of dollars in building fancy new facilities instead of nurturing good relationships with its employees. As a result, they immediately ask for concessions when the economy heads south. Doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

So if the nurses vs. hospitals spat teaches us one thing, it’s this.

Every man (or union) for themselves.