After 27 hours of talks, nurses, SMDC strike dealA threatened one-day strike by SMDC nurses was averted Wednesday when the nurses union and the health system reached a tentative contract agreement after a marathon 27½-hour negotiating session.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
A threatened one-day strike by SMDC nurses was averted Wednesday when the nurses union and the health system reached a tentative contract agreement after a marathon 27½-hour negotiating session.
The almost 960 registered nurses affected will vote Friday on the three-year contract which their union, the Minnesota Nurses Association, is recommending they ratify.
“I’m kind of tired, but at the same time quite exhilarated about the end result,” Steve Strand, an SMDC nurse and negotiator said after the agreement was reached.
Nurses got the contract language covering adequate staffing and safe patient care that they had sought from SMDC, Strand said.
The new contract allows nurses greater say in what adequate nursing staffing levels are on their floors and the ability to say ‘no’ to new admissions when they feel they have more patients than they can handle. It allows for a mediator to be brought in when necessary to find solutions, Strand said.
Nurses also got a percentage raise increase that bested what their nursing counterparts at St. Luke’s Hospital and in the Twin Cities recently got.
Instead of increases of zero percent, 1 percent and 2 percent over three years, which the other nurses got, SMDC nurses did better in year two with a 1 percent wage hike for the first six months and another 0.8 percent increase the rest of the year.
Nurses had insisted, however, that patient care was the issue, not wages.
“It wasn’t an issue,” Strand said.
But when St. Luke’s nurses won a greater company contribution to their health plan premiums, SMDC nurses sought parity through a greater wage increase.
“It’s the same economic package, but a different format,” Strand said.
A federal mediator had called the two sides back to the bargaining table after St. Luke’s nurses reached a tentative contract agreement with their employer last week over similar contract issues. SMDC nurses filed a 10-day notice to strike anyway, to give them extra leverage in the negotiations. Contracts for both SMDC and St. Luke’s nurses expired on July 1.
SMDC mediation resumed at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Duluth Technology Village and continued through 1:30 p.m. Wednesday when agreement was reached, said Dan Englehart, a union organizer.
“Their willingness and seriousness to get this settled in a way our nurses could accept was clear,” Englehart said of SMDC.
“We are pleased that we were able to reach a tentative agreement with the MNA after a lengthy session at the bargaining table,” Dr. Tom Patnoe, president of SMDC Health System, which is changing its name to Essentia, said in a prepared statement. “We feel we negotiated in good faith and worked hard to reach an agreement that reflects our joint commitment to patient care.”
In the contract, nurses also got their life insurance coverage increased from $60,000 to $100,000 or a one-time annual wage. And reimbursements for attending classes and conferences were enhanced.
“We’re just excited and happy,” Strand said. “And we’re proud of (SMDC) coming together with us and coming to an agrement that will allow us to take better care of patients in the Northland.”