They are a gritty bunch in this rural northern Minnesota hospital. The 25 nurses of Essentia Health – Sandstone ran a vigorous organizing campaign and successfully won MNA representation in Dec., 2012. Since then, first-time contract negotiations have tested endurance and patience. Now, after 11 months and 22 sessions, the new MNA unit is fortifying its resolve even more over a management proposal to include a Management Rights clause.
The insidious paragraph is so vague, it creates a management perception that wholesale changes can be made on a whim. “We can’t possibly think of everything that might come up during the term of the contract and this language would allow them to think they could arbitrarily change something, and we’d have no chance to bargain,” said MNA nurse negotiator Tara Mach. Her colleague, Erin Olson offers her perspective of why this is an issue. “Sometimes the most convenient choice for management is not always the best for the patients we care for,” said Olson.
The proposal doesn’t sit well with nurses, especially on the heels of an organizing drive. “We’ve had enough of management’s dismissive behavior,” said Mach. “That’s why we sought MNA representation in the first place.”
Sandstone nurses are determined to secure a contract that assures them a place at the table, with assurances if management wants to change anything about employment circumstances, that nurses get a say. “We need to have a voice on decisions that impact patient care,” said Olson. “A contract provides rules that are fair for both the employer and the employee.”
The group is surrounded in a sea of support. “They are not alone, and have the comfort of knowing 20,000 nurses will back them up,” said Essentia Health St. Mary’s Co-Chair Mary Kirsling. She commended her colleagues, saying “This small group of RNs bravely took this on.
Kirsling echoed the concerns of the Sandstone nurses about the management rights proposal. “It undermines the whole contract. It causes management to think you don’t have an agreement and they have no responsibility. According to Kirsling, management rights not only compromises the contract, but patient care as well. “They perceive they can cut corners and sidestep nursing judgment. That makes my skin crawl.”
Kirsling warned that the implications may go beyond Sandstone. “We can’t budge on that, because it will spread in future. This could impact every nurse in Essentia and in the state,” she said. Erin Olson welcomes the backing. “We need to stick together. We have a voice, and together we can be heard!”