Fairview nurses reach contract, end strike

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Relief seems to be the most common emotion in the wake of the Fairview-University Riverside campus and Fairview-Southdale hospitals’ nurses strike, as a contract ratification ended the 22-day walkout Monday.

Changes to the contract include a wage scale increase set to take place over three years, a 75 percent increase in employer contributions to family health care premiums taking effect by Jan. 1 and a clause stating on-duty nurses will be allowed to close a unit to incoming patients for up to two hours if the nurses would not be able to handle the situation.

“We’re very pleased that the nurses are coming back,” said Ryan Davenport, spokesman for Fairview-Riverside. “Having the nurses back will allow (the hospitals) to have the quality health care that we believe is most important.”

The strike began June 4 when Minnesota Nurses Association nurses replaced their uniforms with picket signs to express their frustration with current working conditions.

Nurses said they believed the hospitals were understaffed, and rejected an offer Fairview representatives brought to the table on June 1 to quell their concerns.

“We’re not staffed to do the quality care that we’re used to doing,” Pauline Poppler, a maternity ward nurse at Riverside said while picketing with fellow nurses.

Nurses are scheduled to return to work by 7 a.m. Friday, replacing temporary nurses the hospital brought in to cover the shifts.

The two Fairview hospitals were the only Minneapolis institutions that dealt with a strike after nurses in 13 area hospitals complained of contract dissatisfaction. Other hospitals reached agreements.

“The settlement came from compromise by both parties,” said Sue Buesgens, chairwoman of the nurses negotiating committee. “The contract is not perfect but goes a long way to meeting the goals of the nurses group.”

Fairview recognized the staffing issue was a priority, Davenport said.

“We developed a contract that includes that,” he said.

Fairview representatives are in contact with nurses to set up schedules to ensure all shifts will be covered by Friday.

“Phone calls to nurses from the hospitals have been courteous and kind so far,” said MNA spokeswoman Jan Rabbers. “The hospitals say they are looking forward to having the nurses back.”

The transition between the replacement nurses and the MNA nurses is also expected to go smoothly.

“We expect that it will be just like when we went on strike. One set of nurses going out the front door with the other set coming in the back door,” Rabbers said.

Davenport said he agreed.

“Like anything, this will need thoughtful planning, but we’re going to make sure it’s an easy transition in terms of patient care,” he said.

Many have wondered why the Fairview hospitals were the only two at which nurses went on strike.

Some nurses expressed the feeling that Fairview retained too much control over situations that should have been under nurse jurisdiction.

“Fairview has always wanted to be in control for fear that nurses would take advantage of the system and not make good decisions,” said nurse Candy Matzke, a member of the Riverside negotiating team.

Nurse Jacquie Luoma, also part of the negotiation team, felt the issues had a lot to do with money.

“Fairview has always been a fiscally cautious organization,” she said.

As with any controversy, emotions have run high in the search for an adequate contract agreement both sides are content with, Rabbers said.

Specifically, some were discontent with MNA’s call for a strike.

“Not everyone felt that a strike was the answer,” she said.

The majority of the nurses, however, felt the issue was important enough to walk out.

“We would have stayed on strike as long as needed until our issues were achieved,” Luoma said. “It would have been difficult, but we were out for the long haul.”

The financial strain of striking proved too much for a few nurses who might not have had the means to remain out of work for the duration of the strike had it continued past Monday’s vote.

“There are too many other jobs out there,” said Kari Hogen, a labor and delivery nurse at Southdale. “With the nursing shortage, we could go to other hospitals.”

But for now, nurses said they are ready to accept Fairview’s terms and return to work.

“We recognize that this is an emotional time for people,” Rabbers said. “We’re working toward social change to assure that nurses can provide safe care for patients.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]