SMDC nurses set date for strike: Sept. 14A day after SMDC and its registered nurses agreed to head back to the bargaining table, the union put the health system on notice. They will strike on Sept. 14 if a tentative agreement isn’t reached.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
A day after SMDC and its registered nurses agreed to head back to the bargaining table, the union put the health system on notice.
They will strike on Sept. 14 if a tentative agreement isn’t reached.
The Minnesota Nurses Association, representing SMDC’s 958 registered nurses, put the pressure on Friday by delivering their formal 10-day notice to strike. The notice comes after their counterparts at St. Luke’s hospital reached a tentative agreement over similar contract issues.
“I’m disappointed the MNA has asked our nurses to leave their patients’ bedside, particularly in light of our agreement to return to negotiations on Tuesday,” said Dr. Tom Patnoe, president of SMDC Health System, which is changing its name to Essentia Health.
Steve Strand, an SMDC registered nurse who is part of the negotiating team, said the strike notice gives nurses added leverage that was already bolstered by St. Luke’s tentative agreement.
“We don’t want to go on strike,” Strand said. But if the nurses don’t get language in the contract that provides greater staffing levels, he said, the care of patients will continue to deteriorate.
The nurses’ three-year contract expired July 1. St. Luke’s registered nurses, who were fighting for similar contract language regarding patient safety, got it in a tentative agreement reached Wednesday morning.
Talks between SMDC and its nurses had reached an impasse after 12 bargaining sessions. But because of the St. Luke’s agreement, a federal mediator on Wednesday called SMDC and its nurses back to the negotiating table. On Thursday, the two sides agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Nurses say wages aren’t an issue. The three-year contract offered them allows for no wage increases the first year, a 1 percent increase the second year and 2 percent in year three. The average full-time registered nurse at SMDC currently earns $80,000 a year plus benefits, according to a company release.
Both sides say they will bargain in good faith. Strand has said that if SMDC nurses were offered patient safety language similar to St. Luke’s, they would take it. On Friday, Patnoe suggested SMDC might, indeed, move in that direction.
“We remain very open to explore options that would be agreeable to the MNA,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to find a solution.”
If talks fail again, the strike is set to begin at 7 a.m. Sept. 14 and continue until 7 a.m. Sept. 15. During the strike, picketing would take place in front of St. Mary’s Medical Center and SMDC Medical Center (formerly Miller-Dwan). It would be the first nurses strike in Duluth.
“I will lose a day of pay, but I’m willing to do it,” said Jill Bianchet, an SMDC registered nurse. “If it gets my patients the nurses they need, I’m willing to do it.”
SMDC started planning for a possible strike two months ago. Replacement nurses would be hired through an agency, though exactly how many isn’t clear, Patnoe said.
“We have lots of preparations in place,” he said. “We plan to remain open and will.”