Duluth Nurses, Hospitals Settle and Avert Strike

Nurses from St. Luke's Hospital and the SMDC Health System ratified a contract settlement last week-and a planned one-day strike has been called off.

Duluth nurses voted last week to ratify a contract settlement reached between union officials and hospital systems-canceling a one-day strike that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

A labor contract between 1,300 registered nurses and three hospitals-St. Luke's Hospital, Saint Mary's Medical Center, and SMDC Medical Center-expired on July 1. The nurses, represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), and the hospitals had been in negotiations since early May.

Duluth nurses voted last month to authorize a 24-hour strike.

Then, earlier this month-and after 17 hours of negotiating-bargaining teams at St. Luke's Hospital reached a tentative agreement. A total of 96 percent of the nurses voted in favor of the settlement last Wednesday. Approximately 450 nurses would have walked out of St. Luke's Hospital had the settlement not been reached.

Last Wednesday, negotiators for the SMDC Health System-which includes SMDC Medical Center and Saint Mary's Medical Center-also reached a tentative contract agreement after 30 consecutive hours of bargaining. The settlement was ratified Friday when 95 percent of SMDC's nurses voted in its favor. About 1,000 nurses from SMDC had planned to strike Tuesday.

Through the negotiations, the MNA was trying to resolve what it describes as two key safety issues: the option for a nurse to refuse an unsafe patient assignment and the ability for nurses to temporarily close a unit to new admissions if they feel they cannot safely care for patients.

The amended contracts include new language that the MNA says will provide more power for nurses and improved staffing levels. The MNA also said that they reached an agreement regarding the temporary closure of units to new admissions when nurses are overwhelmed and unable to properly care for additional patients. The settlement also includes wage increases.

The negotiations between Duluth nurses and hospitals follow similar bargaining between 12,000 nurses-who are also represented by the MNA-and six hospital systems in the Twin Cities.

Nurses in Minneapolis and St. Paul executed a one-day strike on June 10 after they were unable to reach a labor contract agreement. Nurses then planned to strike indefinitely, but they settled with hospitals in early July.