Virginia nurses to picket on FridayNurses will be walking the picket line at Essentia Health-Virginia on Friday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Nurses will be walking the picket line at Essentia Health-Virginia on Friday.
In a news release, the Minnesota Nurses Association said the nurses it represents will picket from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. “as a show of solidarity as contract talks continue between MNA and Essentia Health-Virginia.”
The nurses are working under a 2011 contract that expired on July 31, said Denise Armstrong, a registered nurse in the hospital’s maternal child health unit who is co-chairwoman of the negotiating committee.
Talks with management began on Aug. 9, she said.
The existing contract began when the hospital was Virginia Regional Medical Center, owned and operated by the city of Virginia. This is the first time the nurses have negotiated with Essentia, Armstrong said, and they are concerned about “a list of takebacks” Essentia brought to the bargaining table. Among them, she said, are diminished health-insurance benefits and one less holiday per year.
But their primary concern, Armstrong said, is staffing. She didn’t have a specific number in mind but said Essentia needs to hire more nurses in Virginia.
“We want enough people to where you’re not scrambling at the last minute,” said Armstrong, a nurse at the hospital for nearly 34 years. “We want a little cushion to make sure all of our patients’ needs are met.”
The bargaining unit includes about 110 nurses, Armstrong said. That number hasn’t changed significantly since Essentia took over, she said, but the workload has increased, especially in the emergency room.
Pay is not likely to be an issue, Armstrong said.
Essentia spokeswoman Kim Kaiser said the MNA had given management a 10-day notice of its intention to picket.
“This is part of the negotiation process, and we’re certainly respectful of that,” Kaiser said.
Talks between Essentia management and the nurses association are scheduled for today, with two more sessions already planned, she said.
Essentia’s proposals on benefits are part of its policy to align benefits as closely as possible across the organization’s holdings, she said.
The Essentia staffing proposal is similar to what MNA nurses in Duluth accepted in their last contract talks, Kaiser added.
“It’s an informational picket on Friday and not a strike, and we will continue to serve our patients as usual,” she said.
Essentia assumed control of the former Virginia Regional Medical Center late last year after the City Council approved an affiliation proposal on a 5-2 vote.