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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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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2 Responses to Largest nursing strike in US history

  1. Andrea Nutt

    I completely support the Minnesota Nurses. As evidence-based care becomes the mantra, I think it is time to ensure proper staffing. More and more studies show that it leads to better patient outcomes which is better for both the patients and the healthcare systems. . .and it even saves money in the long run which should also please the penny pinchers in hospital management.

    Now strikes, I am not so much in favor of them. . .However when going through the proper channels gets you nowhere, it is time to get creative. That is what happened in Minnesota. Most nurses felt like they were pushed into the strike by the lack of response by the hospitals. The hospitals have not changed even one thing regarding their bargaining proposal. Their proposal takes back a benefit that the nurses have had for many years-the pension. If you are bargaining there should be some give and take, thus far all that has happened is the proposal to take away and also to require more from the nurses in terms of so called flexibility. The nurses want safe nurse to patient ratios and they want to ensure that a nurse is not thrown into a situation for which he/she is not prepared i.e. med-surg RN being floated to a maternity ward for example without first having training for that kind of nursing. This is they type of flexibility the hospital is asking for. . . in addition to removing a benefit that has been guaranteed in the contract for many years.

    I hope that there are no more strikes but as belts are tightened everywhere and budget cuts continue to compromise patient care and safety, I suspect that more strikes will occur.

    –A nurse who moved out of Minnesota a year ago but whose family still resides there

  2. cindie

    I hope the nation strikes. Nursing needs an upgrade in benefits and pay. Nurse-patient ratios increase the quality of life in hospitals . Work is more enjoyable because we are not working like sharecroppers, for peanuts.