Okay.....: Minn. nurses strike is part of new union's push - Yahoo! News

Thousands of nurses in Minnesota braced for a one-day strike Thursday as part of a new national union's aim to fight hard for nurses as hospitals are increasingly pressured to cut costs.

A similar action planned in California was temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

Health care costs have been skyrocketing, and like other businesses, hospitals are trying to trim their budgets. [COLOR=#366388! important][COLOR=#366388! important]Nurse[/COLOR][/COLOR] pay and benefits are among their largest expenses, and the new union — formed barely six months ago — is gaining popularity for its more assertive stance for nurses' interests.

Nurses oppose proposed pension cuts and complain that staffing levels have been cut dangerously, making their jobs ever more stressful.

Patients are older, and therefore sicker, because they tend to have multiple chronic conditions. Also, advancing medical technology is putting new demands on the nurses who operate it, said Karen Higgins, a Massachusetts nurse and one of three presidents in the 155,000-member national union.

"They've had enough," she said. "It's time to say that we're going to do what we have to do to protect our patients."

About 12,000 Minnesota nurses were involved in Thursday's planned one-day walkout at 14 hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Union [COLOR=#366388! important][COLOR=#366388! important]nurses [COLOR=#366388! important]in [/COLOR][COLOR=#366388! important]California[/COLOR][/COLOR][/COLOR] had planned a simultaneous strike before a San Francisco judge temporarily blocked it and set a June 18 court date for both sides to argue their case.

The Minnesota and California negotiations are the largest since the National Nurses United union formed in December. The group's more aggressive message has found favor with nurses who say they haven't gotten enough help from their local unions. In the last six months, it's picked up 5,500 [COLOR=#366388! important][COLOR=#366388! important]registered [COLOR=#366388! important]nurses[/COLOR][/COLOR][/COLOR] in Texas, Nevada and Illinois.

Representatives of both hospital groups claim the national union is trying to provoke a headline-grabbing strike to grow its membership.

"We think their only goal at this is to have the largest nurses' strike in history," said Maureen Schriner, spokeswoman for the Twin Cities hospitals. Dwaine Duckett, of the University of California system, called the strike threats "part of a national strategy to gain negotiating leverage and demonstrate nationwide power."

The union is billing the strike as the nation's largest. In 1997, about 7,300 California nurses went on strike for two days in January and one day in February, according to the California union and published reports. For five weeks in 1984, about 6,000 Twin Cities nurses also went on strike.

Despite the anticipated size of Minnesota's strike, the immediate effect was expected to be minimal. The hospitals arranged replacement nurses, have taken steps to reduce their number of patients and rescheduled elective surgeries. Two big [COLOR=#366388! important][FONT=arial][COLOR=#366388! important]hospitals [COLOR=#366388! important][FONT=arial]in FONT=arial]the area[/COLOR aren't involved in the strike.

Staffing levels and pension benefits have been key issues in Minnesota and California's negotiations. Nurses say staffing is at dangerous levels; hospitals insist their operations are safe.

The National Nurses United wants rigid [COLOR=#366388! important][COLOR=#366388! important]staffing [COLOR=#366388! important]ratios[/COLOR][/COLOR][/COLOR] in all its nurse contracts, an idea hospitals resist as too expensive and inflexible.
But the hospitals are also cautious.

Gary Chaison, a professor at Clark University in Worchester, Mass., who has studied the [COLOR=#366388! important][COLOR=#366388! important]nurses [COLOR=#366388! important]union[/COLOR][/COLOR][/COLOR] in that state, said a powerful national nurses union concerns hospitals because they need to cut costs, and nurse pay is typically one of their largest expenses. At the same time, nurses are professional labor that can't be replaced with low-wage workers.

Hospitals "are trying to get the cost savings from nurses, but at the same time they have to worry about waking this giant that is nurses' unionism," he said. "They don't want to push too hard."

National Nurses United is trying to position itself as a powerful force.

In fact, the strike "may also be a bellwether about where this part of the industry is going to go nationwide," said Peter Rachleff, a labor historian at Macalester College in St. Paul.

He said American nurses have been unionized for decades but have resisted forming a national union because they assumed local conditions were all different. That's changed with national health care reform, consolidation in the hospital industry and national insurance companies pressuring hospitals to cut costs.

"It has pushed nurses to finally create a national voice," Rachleff said.