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Methodist Hospital Nurses Approve New Contract
By Marisa Helms
Minnesota Public Radio
June 4, 2001
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The 840 nurses at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park ratified a new contract Sunday night. The agreement includes a 20.1 percent pay increase over three years, and some improvements in staffing and health insurance coverage.

Methodist Hospital nurse and negotiator DeeDee Bloch announces the ratification of a new contract by Methodist nurses on Sunday night.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
ALTHOUGH NOT EVERYONE WILL BE PLEASED with the new contract, there was a concerted effort by many of the nurses to put on a face of solidarity - that no matter the decision, Methodist Hospital nurses would stand together.

Cheryl Jensen is a labor and delivery nurse at Methodist and has been in the profession for 13 years. She says she's been very happy with her job, and looks forward to repairing work relationships strained by the negotiations and strike threat.

"Let's just go back to work. Our patients need us, we need them. We need each other as a unit, we need our spirit back again. I hope that we all get back to our friendship, and talking to our managers and having a spirit about nursing again," says Jensen.

Details of the Methodist contract don't vary much from those of other settlements in recent days. There's a 20.1 percent wage increase over the next three years. That includes a 0.3 percent increase in the second year for nurses with 25 years of service at Methodist.

But nurses from each of the negotiating hospitals say it's never been just about the money. It's also about patient safety - making sure nurses' schedules are more manageable and making sure nursing is seen as a desirable profession.

Methodist nurse and negotiator DeeDee Bloch says there's bound to be a major nursing shortage if some of the labor-management issues aren't in some stage of resolution. She says the current settlement is a starting point. Perhaps the biggest success of the negotiations, she says, stems from it's slogan and rallying cry: "Start hearing nurses."

"I think people are starting to hear nurses and that's what we wanted. We wanted to bring our issues to the public and that was very important to us."

Bloch says the public needs to know the nursing profession is heading for a crisis. She cites a study which warns by the year 2020 the country will be short 650,000 nurses. Nurses complain that tight staffing and overburdened patient loads are compromising the quality of work, and discouraging young men and women from pursuing a nursing career.

Methodist Patient Care Services Vice President Kathy Kallas says safe patient care is a high priority for both management and staff. She says under the new agreement, nurses will have more power to negotiate their workload.

"Our staff nurses, along with our charge nurses, would have input into the decision-making regarding their assignments and how comfortable they are with assignments," says Kallas. "Together as a group they will look at appropriate assignment making so the staff is comfortable with the assignments as well as management being comfortable with their assignments."

Kallas says what's different in the Methodist agreement is a new training and educational development initiative for both management and staff to improve collaborative efforts. She says it will help the two groups to listen to each other and strategize together.

Now that Fairview University Medical Center and the Fairview Southdale Hospital are alone in their choice to strike, Methodist nurse negotiator DeeDee Bloch says she and her colleagues will shift their focus to supporting the Fairview nurses.

"We are going to be out there picketing with them. We are going to throw our support with them. We've had a lot of solidarity among the Methodist nurses, and I think that will be a place where we can expend our energies, because we do have a lot of energy left over," says Bloch.

Another provision in the Methodist agreement is increasing the amount the hospital pays for its employees' health insurance premiums. Now Methodist will pick up between 75 to 85 percent of the premium cost.