Allina nurses ratify new contract, return to work

Allina Health nurses in the Minneapolis-St Paul area returned to work after ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ratification vote ended a five-week strike by the nurses.

The vote came two days after the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA)  and Allina reached a tentative agreement on October 11.

The two sides announced the agreement after a 17-hour negotiating session held in the home of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

Gov. Dayton brought the two sides together and urged them to reach an agreement a week after nurses rejected a proposal Allina to end the strike.

“This contract represents compromise and strength by the nurses,” said Rose Roach, MNA’s executive director. “While it’s nowhere near what nurses deserve, they can hold their heads high. They can rest easy knowing they won a “no diminishment” clause, so even though they are moving to the corporate health insurance plans, they have assurance that the value of their benefits won’t be reduced in any future cost-cutting scheme.”

When contract talks began in February, Allina sought to shift nurses away from their low-cost, high-quality union sponsored health care plan and into its corporate plan.

Penny Wheeler, Allina’s CEO, said that doing so would save the company $10,000,000.

The savings would be generated by shifting health care costs from the company to the nurses.

The Kaiser Family Foundation compared the union’s two most popular plans with the company’s most popular plan.

Depending on which of the two union plans a nurse is enrolled, insurance pays either 91 percent and 96 percent of the yearly costs that a typical person would incur. Under the corporate plan, a typical person pays 87 percent of the yearly costs.

Before the strike began, nurses agreed to the shift but wanted it done gradually and wanted Allina to compensate them for the money they would lose when they shifted to the corporate plan.

The final agreement, which is similar to the agreement that nurses rejected a week earlier, gives nurses five years to shift their health care coverage to the corporate plan.

When they do so, Allina will contribute money to a health reimbursement or savings account.

The company also agreed that during this time, corporate plan benefits will not be diminished.

There were other issues that led to the strike. Concerns about under staffing were just as important to the nurses as their health care plan.

Nurses argued that staffing shortages were putting the health and lives of their patients as risk. They wanted the company to agree to safe nurse to patient staffing ratios.

The ratified agreement takes some small steps toward addressing the under staffing problem.

Under terms of the new agreement, Allina agreed to examine the conditions under which charge nurses are assigned a patient load.

Charge nurses are registered nurses who perform supervisory work. They oversee admissions and discharges, assign duties to other nurses and staff, assist other nurses and staff, and perform administrative tasks such as ordering and monitoring prescription medicine.

Charge nurses usually care for patients too.

Nurses are hoping that a closer examination of how charge nurses are assigned patient care will lead to more appropriate nurse to patient ratios for all nurses.

“The nurses sacrificed their livelihoods and their families’ security to win improvements to patient care through a staffing procedure that will examine and review the impact of charge nurses having patient assignments,”said Mary Turner, MNA’s president and an RN at Allina’s North Memorial Medical Center. “The issue of safe staffing is far greater than one job classification, which is why nurses focused from day one on negotiating staffing ratios.”

The new contract also includes safety improvements. For example, Allina agreed to hire security guards that would be present in its emergency rooms around the clock.

While the nurses voted to end the strike, they remain wary of Allina and its motives.

“To Allina we say: as a member-run union, the nurses make the decisions (about ending the strike),” said Roach. “Rest assured, this isn’t the last time you will hear nurses speak out. The wounds inflicted on the nurses since February will not heal overnight. Nurses have continually felt disrespected and devalued. Nurses are determined to keep speaking up for their patients and their profession as they return to the bedside. I hope Allina will listen and work to re-establish trust with the nurses and ensure maximum patient safety and care.”

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