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Our View: Little-used rule saves council from overreach

From the editorial: "If councilors want to take a stand on the current contract negotiations between our hospitals and nurses, it could follow the lead of Duluth Area Chamber ... President Matt Baumgartner, who, in August, penned a commentary for the News Tribune urging federal mediation, if necessary."

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Just because Rule 20 is rarely invoked by the Duluth City Council doesn’t mean it never should be. The rule is on the books for a reason, and recently it was dusted off as a tool in the councilors’ toolbox — and it saved our local elected body from inappropriately wading in and taking sides in a public dispute where it had no direct business.

As the News Tribune reported last week, Rule 20 allowed a resolution to be shelved several days before its expected public vote. The resolution was in support of the Minnesota Nurses Association union in its ongoing contract negotiations with Essentia Health and St. Luke’s hospital.

As Councilor Roz Randorf stated in the News Tribune story, “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?”

How about nowhere, not as a public body and not when it comes to private contract negotiations?

Far more appropriately, rather than as the council, councilors individually had already sent a letter to the St. Luke’s and Essentia CEOs urging them to negotiate fairly and to not let a three-day strike devolve into a lockout.

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A similar letter urging good-faith negotiations could be sent, too, to the nurses union. It’s not too late. Fair negotiations are, of course, a two-way street.

As individual councilors, Randorf said, “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.” There was no reason then for the City Council, as a body, to weigh in, too.

Had councilors done so, what precedent would it have set? At least one councilor expressed concern about that. It should concern them all.

“It would seem unfair to weigh in on one and then choose not to weigh in on others,” Councilor Arik Forsman said in the News Tribune. The well-placed concern is all the more reason for the council not to interject itself into matters that, really, aren’t the council’s purview.

If councilors want to take a stand on the current contract negotiations between our hospitals and nurses, it could follow the lead of Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner, who, in August, penned a commentary for the News Tribune urging federal mediation, if necessary. Appropriately, and showing true community leadership, Baumgartner didn’t pick a side in the ongoing dispute. He supported both the nurses (calling them “valued” and “amazing”) and the hospitals (calling their leaders “excellent”).

“I am asking that both sides negotiate as good-faith partners who want nurses compensated fairly and health care that is available, sustainable, and affordable,” Baumgartner wrote. “We support nurses as the health professionals they are; and at the same time we need health care that is available, sustainable, and affordable. We cannot afford to lose any of our health care options, either from a care perspective or a cost perspective.”

The council’s resolution, had it passed or even been considered, was saddled with a precedence problem and the picking of some in our community over others. Thank heavens for little-used Rule 20 to save the council from itself.

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