Saturday September 30th 2023

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Hospitals Ignore Nurses’ Pleas for Security after Strike


After September’s state-wide nursing strike Minnesota hospitals are still unwilling to have a reasonable discussion about nurses’ labor contract. Nurses are baffled about why hospitals are not playing ball after eight months of negotiations.

Since the pandemic began, hospitals have seen a massive influx of violence, including several instances of visitors bringing firearms onto hospital floors.

Nurses are concerned for their safety and the safety of their patients, but hospitals refuse to do things like add metal detectors. Metal detectors are found in many schools and grocery stores around the state. Should your hospital be less secure than your Cub?

From the start, hospitals have said that they respect their nurses. They were cheerleaders during the pandemic, but when the dust cleared and nurses began demanding better working conditions, they said we were asking for too much. These are the same nurses who risked—and sometimes lost—their lives during the pandemic. Lip service about respect is not cutting it. Nurses need material change.
Hospitals have said they are financially unable to meet the nurses’ demands, yet during the strike they openly offered $11,000 or more a week to travel nurses who came in as strikebreakers. And this was just their pay—with agencies taking a cut, hospitals’ costs were even higher.

Indeed, if hospitals can pay a travel nurse $3,000 a day, they can afford to pay existing staff $3,000 more a year. During the 2010 strike, hospitals lost an estimated $2 million a day. 15,000 nurses went on strike this time. At the rates hospitals were paying them, you can do the math to estimate how much this cost. It is baffling that this loss is financially preferable to protecting the security of staff and patients, or increasing pay to keep up with inflation.

Added to this financial loss is the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by hospitals on expansions and new equipment that does not function well for nurses, as well as record breaking salaries and bonuses for executives. The accusation that nurses are not team players when we have continually risked our lives for our patients is insulting, and hospitals’ clear waste of money while denying us better pay and security feels punitive. Any floor nurse can come up with five good ideas to save hospitals money. But hospitals don’t ask because they are not interested in us.

Meanwhile, while they claim they are negotiating in good faith, they immediately begin recruiting scabs after the strike in anticipation of another; when we offer to lower our wage demands, they refuse to counter-offer. They refuse to take our security requests seriously, then say nurses are not cooperating. This is an abusive relationship where the victim is blamed.

Hospitals claim they are well staffed, yet every nurse is bombarded with texts begging us to pick up extra shifts. But even with incentive pay, too few are willing to tolerate these working conditions. That should tell them something. When a union staff member confronted a hospital’s representatives about their refusal to address the violence and danger facing nurses – violence and danger which effectively puts nurses on disability – the hospital’s negotiating team ended negotiations.

Soon after, the hospital sent out a corporate email saying that they ended the meeting because a member of the union staff – one of the few people of color in the room – was being disrespectful for calling them out on not cooperating in the negotiations.

It is only a matter of time before someone is killed because of this refusal to negotiate. Among ourselves, we nurses say that when someone is shot and killed at work, it will finally get the hospital leadership’s attention. But then, we reflect. We remember the deadly 2021 shooting at a hospital in Buffalo, Minnesota, and we think, “Well, maybe not.”

Editorial Note: the alley very rarely prints anonymous content. In this case we have made an exception to prevent retaliation against the author. In a decision like this, the importance of the message must be weighed against the potential harm to the author if their name is printed. The balance of power is also an important factor – in this instance, the power of the healthcare industry against a worker raising concerns about industry workplace safety.

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