Metro area nurses gathered Tuesday and voted to ratify a new contract with 14 area hospitals, thus ending a four-month dispute between the two sides.
Nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association returned to the polls not to vote on a strike but to bring to a close a negotiation process that began in March.
“This is their third time through, so everyone is pretty accustomed to the process,” MNA spokesman John Nemo said as nurses walked in and out to vote between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
MNA recommended its members approve the contract, and they did so “overwhelmingly,” according to a press release late Tuesday night.
The vote was prompted by a surprise announcement last Thursday that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement.
Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Schriner said there was no concrete change that brought about the compromise.
“I think that there was recognition that we needed to do something that was going to be a positive step for the patients and the community,” she said.
With the help of a federal mediator, negotiators from MNA and 14 metro area hospitals left the bargaining table with a settlement at 11 p.m. last Wednesday.
Nurses had been set to walk out on strike again Tuesday, but that strike date was lifted after the settlement was made.
As throughout the contract negotiation process, staffing levels are at the heart of the settlement. Responsibility will be shifted to existing committees of nurses and hospital management at each hospital to resolve the dispute.
There will be no concrete nurse-to-patient ratios, but Nemo said the fight over staffing levels is far from over.
He said nurses will focus on discussions within the committees and work to call the public’s attention to the issue.
“Just because we didn’t get it in this particular issue doesn’t mean we’re going to drop the fight,” he said. “It’s the number-one issue for nurses.”
MNA’s bargaining team approved the hospital’s proposal of 1 percent and 2 percent pay raises in the second and third years of the new contract. Nurses will not get a raise the first year.
Though hospitals undoubtedly came out on top in the staffing issue, nurses fought back proposed changes to nurses’ pension and health care plans. In previous contract proposals, hospitals cut pension rates from 1.75 percent to 1.2 percent. Hospitals also cut back a change to the nurses’ health care plan.
In a video posted on MNA’s blog, nurse and negotiator Cindy Olson was visibly disappointed with the settlement.
“It’s not everything we had hoped for and put out for a win, but it’s not a loss either,” she said.
After a one-day strike June 10 and nearly four months of tense negotiations, emotions between the two sides may not simply disappear after the contract is finalized.
“There’s a period where you need to have the dust settle,” Nemo said.