THE Minnesota Nurses Association says that on Labor Day, September 5th, nearly 5,000 of its members will walk off their jobs in an open-ended strike against five Allina Health hospitals in the Twin Cities.
The union says it filed its required 10-day intent to strike notice early on Friday morning. The nurses are at odds with Allina over management’s effort to move them onto its corporate health plans which include more cost-sharing than the current nurses-only plans.
In June, nurses held a one-week strike. The union hopes the upcoming open-ended strike will apply more pressure on Allina. Union officials say the workers will walk off their jobs at 7am September 5th at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, the Phillips Eye Institute and Mercy, United and Unity Hospitals.
Allina has said if there is a strike, it intends to operate those facilities with replacement nurses. Contract negotiations ended on August 1st when nurses received another offer from Allina Health that eliminates all four of their contract health insurance plans. The nurses’ negotiations team will take the offer to the membership to vote to accept or reject later this month.
At the opening of the negotiations session, the nurse negotiating team re-submitted the proposal from July 22 that met the hospital company half-way by ending two of the four contract health insurance plans. Nurses have been negotiating a new three-year contract with Allina since February.
‘We met Allina halfway, and that’s as far as nurses will go,’ said Angela Becchetti, RN at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. ‘We’ve bargained in good faith with Allina for six months now, even when they haven’t.’ A separate vote took place at each of Allina’s five metro facilities: Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, Phillips Eye Institute, United, and Unity hospitals.
Nurses voted to reject the offer. The vote to reject the offer was also a vote to authorise another strike. ‘The strike brought nurses together,’ Becchetti said. ‘And everything Allina has told us has only unified us even more. Nurses are prepared to protect their benefits.’
Meanwhile, Registered nurses held a picket last Thursday, August 25, in front of the US Department of Veterans Affairs Headquarters, 810 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC, urging the US Department of Veterans Affairs to work with them to ensure quality care at the VA by moving forward with stalled negotiations.
The nurses were speaking out on behalf of the 11,000 RNs affiliated with National Nurses United at 23 VA facilities in 12 states. Nurses are voicing concerns on patient care issues, including chronic short staffing and the recruitment and retention of experienced nurses. Over the past 20 months, RNs have submitted 1,500 reports documenting understaffing and other patient care issues to VA management.
‘The duty of registered nurses within the VA healthcare system is to provide high quality care and to advocate for the men and women who put their lives and health at risk defending our nation,’ said Irma Westmoreland, RN and Chair, NNU-VA. ‘That’s why we’re holding this picket.
‘We are the front-line caregivers whose work ensures that patients get the care they need, and in many cases we are veterans and patients ourselves. We urge the VA to negotiate with us in good faith so the VA can recruit and retain experienced RNs and ensure timely care for our vets.’
The NNU says: ‘There are thousands of RN vacancies at VA facilities, sometimes as many as 15,000, system-wide, due to delays in hiring and recruitment and retention issues. Nurses would like to address these issues in a process that includes representatives from each bargaining unit.
‘The VA has stalled the commencement of negotiations by refusing to allow this representation and by demanding other restrictions on the bargaining process including limiting RNs’ right to communicate with the public.’
Westmoreland said: ‘We VA nurses are honoured to work at the VA because we know it provides the specialised care our veterans so deeply need. We’re saying, let’s move forward with negotiations as soon as possible, so we can focus on healing and rehabilitating the heroes of our nation’s armed forces.’
Elsewhere, two major bills sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United to strengthen patient safety protections are moving ahead in the hurried final days of the California legislative session.
SB 1076, by Sen. Ed Hernandez of West Covina, to enact new protections for hospital patients warehoused in ‘observation status’ with fewer standards accorded other patients, passed its final legislative hurdle on a 27-4 vote in the California Senate and now heads to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
Use of ‘observation’ status, under which a patient can be held for hours or days with less regulatory oversight and fewer protections, puts patients at health and financial risk, nurses say. SB 1076 would extend protections for ‘observation’ patients that are provided to other patients in the hospital setting.
Additionally, patients held under ‘observation’ for the entire duration of their hospital stay who are then discharged to a nursing home or other long-term care facility do not qualify for the same Medicare reimbursement, and can face mammoth out-of-pocket costs.
SB 1076 clarifies that observation units must meet the same staffing standards as emergency rooms, along with various other protections for patients. Senator Hernandez said: ‘All too often, patients are kept overnight in the hospital without ever being admitted.
‘Under SB 1076, patients will be notified if they are on observation status, which may affect their insurance coverage. Additionally, SB 1076 will ensure that patients who are in observation care get the same level of nurse staffing as any other patient in the hospital.’
AB 2272, by Assembly member Tony Thurmond to add protections for patients, nurses and other health professionals exposed to toxic airborne contaminants in surgical settings also passed the State Senate Wednesday, and returns to the California Assembly for final concurrence before going before the governor.
Surgical plumes are the smoke by-product of laser or electro-surgical procedures that emanate from the removal or burning (cauterisation) of human tissue in various medical procedures in hospital operating rooms or surgery centres.
The microscopic gases, plumes, typically contain infectious chemicals or biological particles that can cause cancer, viral infections leading to acute or chronic pulmonary or skin disorders, including pneumonia, asthma, and other health hazards to the patient and all medical personnel in the room. AB 2272 would direct California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to come up with a standard to evacuate the plumes.