Tough contract negotiations were no match for the 64 gutsy nurses at First Light Health Services in Mora. A 25-bed critical access facility, the hospital is owned and operated by Kanabec County, and nurses routinely care for their neighbors, friends and families. The fight to keep good nurses at the bedside was very personal for the bargaining team.
A proposal by hospital administration to reduce health insurance benefits flew in the face of reason for the whole bargaining team, especially in regard to patient satisfaction. “If nurses aren’t happy, patients won’t be happy,” said Bargaining Unit Chair Margie Odendahl, RN.
As negotiations went on, nurses grew more determined. After learning about that and other concessionary proposals in the first session, the negotiating committee delivered a petition signed by 100 percent of the nurse group demanding administrators retract that demand. Without signs of significant movement, the nurses organized another action to send a letter to administrator bosses – the Kanabec County Board of Commissioners.
The results were almost immediate. Within days, hospital negotiators offered contract proposals that kept health benefits at status quo, and securing a wage package that matched metro wage increases along with other economic gains. Also important to the agreement, were advancement in scheduling processes. The whole bargaining unit overwhelmingly approved the contract on Nov. 5.
“We’d never done something like this in Mora,” said Odendahl. “But everyone wanted to fight and we stuck together.” Odendahl and the committee are grateful and proud of each and every member of the bargaining unit. “Without everyone on board, we couldn’t have done it,” she added. She attributes much of the success to approaching negotiations with the philosophy that “it’s not one person’s agenda, it’s everyone’s.”