by S. Nappalos
Over 12,000 Minnesota nurses are set to strike in 14 hospitals across the Twin Cities area. Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, a union for nurses, are presently in contract negotiations with hospitals in their region. Negotiations have stalled over patient-to-staff ratios, with the union demanding strict safe-staffing ratios, and hospital management claiming that present staffing is already sufficient. Nurses have called for the strike in an effort to win mandated safe-staffing in all hospitals under the union contract.
The strike is set to be a one-day strike. In health care facilities, such as hospitals, law requires 10-days advanced notice to allow hospitals to present a plan for continued necessary services to a government oversight committee. The hospitals have responded by paying for nurses to be flown in, paid what could be double wages, hotel accommodations, and travel expenses to cover staffing during the strike. Nurses held a candlelight vigil Wednesday June 09th.
The strike is set to be the largest nurses strike in US history, and is set against a background of declining working conditions and safety in US hospitals related to the present economic crisis. Budget cuts, escalating costs in insurance, drugs, and medical equipment, expanding managerial bureaucracies and salaries, and declining reimbursement from insurers have pressed hospitals who have already been suffering. At the same time, health care is expanding and even profiting while imposing cuts, austerity, and increasing the workload on health care workers which numerous studies have shown leads to declining patient health, increases in medication errors, and adverse events.
In California, nurses at the University of California hospital systems planned on striking, until the strike was ruled illegal by a California judge. Nurses will now hold rallies at all such hospitals in solidarity with striking nurses in Minnesota.
It is possible that a victory in reversing unsafe staffing in Minnesota could provide an example to nurses struggling across the nation. A successful strike would show the power of collective strength and unity in light of the failure of lobbying, electioneering, and petitioning for change from the top. Nurses and health care workers need to stand together with striking nurses in Minnesota, and begin organizing for a movement to stop the abuse doled out to patients through mismanagement, profiteering, and a lack of access to real care.