St. Luke’s nurses offered deal they like; SMDC might be nextNegotiators are recommending that St. Luke's hospital nurses accept the terms reached Wednesday morning.
By: Steve Kuchera and Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
The threat of a strike at St. Luke’s hospital has likely been avoided.
Nurse negotiators and St. Luke’s management reached a tentative agreement on a contract at 6 a.m. Wednesday after 17 hours of mediation.
The Minnesota Nurses Association, the union representing St. Luke’s 420 registered nurses, is recommending approval on the contract, which is headed for a vote next Wednesday.
“It was a long session, but a well-worthwhile session,” said Cindy Prout, a St. Luke’s registered nurse who was part of the negotiating team. “We were able to achieve for our patients a plan around staffing that will help to ensure we will have enough nurses to take care of our patients safely.”
Meanwhile, the threat of a one-day nurses’ strike looms over SMDC Health System, now called Essentia Health. But Steve Strand, union negotiator for SMDC’s 958 nurses, was hopeful a strike could be avoided after learning of St. Luke’s tentative agreement.
“They were able to negotiate language that we’re certainly looking for at SMDC,” he said. “I find that encouraging.”
It’s the same language that nurses in the Twin Cities fought for and won. And if SMDC offers the same language, Strand said the negotiating team would take it.
“We’re hoping that with this new development, SMDC will want to come back and talk to us further,” he said.
St. Luke’s three-year tentative contract includes no wage increase the first year, a 1 percent increase the second year and a 2 percent in year three, as previously offered. SMDC offered the same wage increases to its nurses.
A key chapter of the negotiations centered on how to provide adequate staff levels. The new provisions set up procedures for temporarily closing a unit to patient admissions or transfers when nurses believe they’re unable to safely provide care.
“We were able to devise a plan for nurses to say, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t take that new admission,’ because we have a process that will start,” Prout said. “What’s going to happen (is), a nurse is going to be notified when an admission or transfer is coming. She’ll be able to assess her workload. If it jeopardizes the safety of her patients or the new patients, she will be able to let her immediate supervisor know.”
The situation then will be evaluated, and an admission or transfer may be delayed until the situation is safe, Prout said.
The contract offer also increases the employer contribution for health insurance premiums, allows for educational workshops and classes and a way for management and nurses to work together on a code of conduct.
“We perceived it (the code of conduct) limited our ability to speak out on behalf of our patients,” Prout said. “So we hope to refine that in the process.”
The hospital is pleased that the sides reached a tentative agreement, St. Luke’s President and CEO John Strange said in a news release.
“We understand that the MNA will be recommending this contract to their members, and we look forward to a positive outcome,” he said.
Prout praised St. Luke’s for listening to the union’s concerns.
“St. Luke’s really heard what we had to say.” she said. “We worked together to come to a common ground. It was evident it was the patient above all else.”
Three-year contracts for both SMDC and St. Luke’s nurses expired July 1. Nurses at both hospitals overwhelmingly rejected contract offers Aug. 18, authorizing a one-day strike. A 10-day notice is required before such a strike can be held.
An Aug. 25 federal mediation session between nurses and SMDC Health System ended without an agreement. On Wednesday, SMDC spokeswoman Kim Kaiser said it would be up to the federal mediator to call the sides back to the table.
“We’re pleased to hear of the tentative agreement that was reached between St. Luke’s and the MNA,” Kaiser said. “We’re interested in learning details of the agreement. I can’t really say at this point how or if it will impact our negotiations.”