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Nurses Putting Patients Before Profits

Pickets ready to strike from the 2010 Nurses Strike / Photo from facebook.com/MinnesotaNurses

Minnesota Nurses Association Authorizes Strike

By HARRY, RN, MNA Union Steward

On August 15th, the nurses of Minnesota’s union hospitals voted to authorize a strike. Here’s why:

The world recognized the COVID pandemic as a war, the biggest global health crisis since the Black Plague. Healthcare workers, nurses in particular, were fighting on the front lines. But despite surviving this horror, and despite the hospitals sometimes lauding us, nurses were not given a hero’s parade. We got no GI Bill or significant wage increase for being battle-hardened survivors. Instead, we continue to face unprecedented workplace violence and a choice by hospitals to choose profits over patients.

The Minnesota Nurses Association has been negotiating new contracts for nurses, the first new contracts since the pandemic. The hospitals that employ us, including Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Minneapolis, are not taking us seriously.

It is a myth that there is a shortage of nurses. In fact, there are enough registered nurses to man Minnesota’s hospitals, but there are not enough RNs willing to work in unsafe conditions. The reason nurses are burnt out is not because we are underpaid. We are tired of seeing our patients injured because of institutional policies that shun safe practices.

Quite simply, the pandemic made our patients sicker. This requires more, better trained staff. Yet RNs are so fed up that we see huge turnover rates. More than 47% of healthcare workers are expected to leave the field by 2025. Given that it costs about $82,000 to train a new RN, it is hard to imagine that taking steps to retain existing staff would not be profitable.

But instead, the hospitals brazenly contradict their actions in public. During the deadly hospital shooting last year in Buffalo, MN, hospitals said they condemn gun violence, but when the union asked a hospital to implement security measures like metal detectors, they were denied. Nurses continue to find firearms in patients’ belongings. Hospitals posted on social media in support of Juneteenth, but denied recognizing it as a holiday. During nurse’s week, some hospitals asked for donations in the name of nurses, while rewarding them, literally, with a bag of peanuts. It feels like gaslighting.

If there are no nurses, there is no hospital. Yet those of us who stay at the bedside are taken advantage of because we care about our patients’ safety so much we do not quit in the face of poor wages, violence, or abuse.

Next time you or a loved one are in the hospital, ask yourself if you want the nurses to have the resources they need to provide proper care.

The world changed, our patients changed, and we changed during the pandemic. But not the hospital administration. They continue to talk of caring for patients and staff while churning out policies that endanger and humiliate both. The decision to authorize a strike was not taken out of greed, but necessity to protect quality healthcare across the state. And there is still time for hospitals to take us seriously.

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