August 21, 2019
“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line”
Hundreds of nurses organized an informational picket the week of August 19, calling for fair wages and safe working conditions at Essentia and St. Luke’s hospitals in Duluth, MN.
Supporters from various unions and local politicians felt the spirit of Johnny Cash’s hit song as they walked the line in support of the men and women who put the “care” in healthcare.
At issue is a contract that retains experienced nurses for patients and works to recruit new nurses for an expanding hospital market in the Twin Ports.
“Nurses came to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract that addresses a critical staffing shortage and provides compensation that keeps up with the cost of living,” said Chris Rubesch, a registered nurse at Essentia.
“We’ve been negotiating for three months, and the hospitals refuse to take our proposals to address the most pressing issues seriously,” Rubesch added.
Safe staffing is an urgent issue for all Twin Ports nurses, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA). Nurses report that hospitals are not scheduling, recruiting, and retaining enough nurses to fill every shift every day and night.
Safety in numbers
As a member of National Writers Union (NWU), a former patient, and the mother-in-law of one of those nurses, I participated in the informational picket because it is essential we support staffing that is adequate and insures the safety of workers who are stretched to the limits.
We cannot let “profits” dictate the quality of care people receive during their time of need, nor can we allow our caregivers to put their safety on the line without fair compensation.
Rubesh says it best: “Nurses’ top priority is patient care, but we can’t do our best when we have too many patients to care for at one time.”
Location should not dictate wages
MNA’s last three-year contract expired June 30. While there’s been some progress, both hospitals still propose to take benefits from nurses, and hospitals’ wage offers continue to lag behind what nurses in the Twin Cities won in negotiations in June.
Under one current management proposal, St. Luke’s nurses would lose two weeks of benefit time or the equivalent of $3400 in benefits per year, according to the MNA. Essentia nurses would lose 88 hours of time off and $4,600 a year if they had to change sick and vacation time systems.
I believe in the power of unions and the importance of solidarity. As a member of the NWU, Local 1981 of the UAW, I will continue to walk the line with members of the MNA and other unions fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions.