On heels of walkout, resolution in support of nurses divides Duluth City Council
Councilors voted to remove the proposed resolution from their agenda.
DULUTH — A resolution calling for a fair contract for the Minnesota Nurses Association prompted a divisive debate among City Council members recently.
Councilors Mike Mayou, Azrin Awal and Gary Anderson brought the resolution forward only to have their colleagues vote to remove it from the agenda before it could even be considered.
Councilor Roz Randorf expressed concern that a resolution of support for the MNA’s negotiation efforts could have resulted in future expectations.
“There are dozens and dozens of unions we support locally. And my biggest thing is: Where, as a council, do we get actively involved in negotiating?” she said.
Randorf noted that all nine sitting councilors had already sent a letter to the CEOs of Essentia Health and St. Luke’s urging them to negotiate with local nurses and to not let a three-day strike devolve into a lockout.
“We put a solid stake in the ground saying we believe that everyone needs to come to the table in good faith and bargain. We want our nurses taken care of, and we want our hospitals to thrive. We need a solid, healthy medical community,” she said.
In a seldom-exercised move, using one of the council’s standing rules of operation, councilors who shared Randorf’s concerns chose to shelve the resolution Sept. 22 — four days before it was slated to go to an actual vote at a public meeting.
At the next meeting, Anderson expressed his dismay with his colleagues’ Sept. 22 actions, noting that in more than 6½ years on the council, he had never seen such a maneuver.
“Not one, not two, but three councilors brought forward a resolution that we thought was important to air in the view of the public, not at an agenda session but at a council meeting,” he said. “I believe this community expects that our debates and our votes will happen at our regular meetings.”
Council President Arik Forsman, who voted to remove the resolution in question from the meeting’s agenda, pointed to the letter councilors previously sent to the leadership of both local hospitals and said his colleagues had “already expressed pretty clear support for our nurses.”
“There were also points brought up about the precedent of the council choosing to wade into private negotiations and what that would potentially lead to in the future,” he said.
While councilors, by and large, profess to support local labor unions and their efforts to negotiate fair contracts, Forsman said: “It would seem unfair to weigh in on one and then choose not to weigh in on others.”
He said passing such a resolution could potentially redefine what is and is not considered council business.
Mayou was unable to attend the Sept. 22 agenda session meeting due to a case of COVID-19, from which he has since recovered. He said it was frustrating to listen to the council debate without being able to participate in the discussion.
“I didn’t even get to have a voice in that conversation, and the conversation had ended by Monday essentially on that specific item,” Mayou said. “Do we want this to be the way our council operates in the future?”
As for the possibility of repeat use of Rule 20 by the council, Anderson said: ”I’m not that concerned to be truthful, because this was a one-time deal. I’ve never seen it before, and I don’t expect to see it in the future.”
Randorf continues to defend the council’s decision to remove the resolution from its agenda, especially as a vote against it for legitimate reasons could have been misconstrued as a lack of support for nurses.
“It was better for the council and it was quite honestly better for the nurses to take it off the table completely. So, utilizing Rule 20 in our council rules seemed to me like a pretty dog-gone good idea,” she said.
Forsman agreed that the public perception of bringing the resolution to a vote could have been tricky to navigate.
“From what I heard in that discussion, if councilors chose to vote ‘no,’ it would have been more about the precedent it was setting and what constitutes council business. But it would have been taken as being not supportive of what the nurses are asking for,” he said.
Although councilors took a pass on considering the resolution, dozens of nurses dressed in red MNA shirts packed City Council chambers Monday evening, sending several speakers to the podium to ask for public support in their ongoing negotiations with Duluth's two local hospital systems.