Largest nursing strike in US history

12,000 Minnesota nurses walked off the job today, frustrated by what they consider unsafe staffing levels. The striking nurses are members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, which is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in history. The one-day strike — which follows closely on the heels of a strike in Pennsylvania and echoes the unrest in California — has been called the largest nursing strike in US history.
The Minnesota nurses are employed by 14 Twin Cities hospitals. The hospitals want to control costs by limiting pay raises and pension contributions; the hospitals also resist the idea of pre-determined nurse-to-patient ratios and insist that flexibility, not rigidity, is the key to cost-effective, quality care. The nurses are calling for established nurse-patient ratios and fair compensation.

A number of experts are eagerly watching the Minnesota contract negotiations. Historically, nurses have been viewed as a financial liability to hospitals; as the largest group of hospital employees, nurse salaries and benefits often take up the bulk of the budget. And with looming Medicare cuts, hospitals are looking for ways to control costs in order to maintain revenue.  The nurses, however, cite studies showing that adequate nurse-patient ratios  decrease the incidence of errors, effectively decreasing costs.

Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, told NPR today that he thinks “one strike will lead to another and another and another and we’ll have a huge national upheaval of nurses because they feel that they’ve been left of decision-making at health care institutions.”

Do you think Prof. Chaison is right? Is the Minnesota strike a precursor of things to come? What do you think of nurse strikes in general?

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