Thousands Of Nurses Strike In Minnesota
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. In Minnesota today, nurses from 14 hospitals across the Twin Cities walked off the job. With about 12,000 nurses joining the picket line, the one-day strike is set to be the largest in U.S. history, and as Laura Yuen of Minnesota Public Radio reports, this could be just the beginning.
(Soundbite of siren)
LAURA YUEN: Several dozen nurses in red union T-shirts circled the sidewalk in front of Minnesota's oldest hospital. They pumped signs in the air that read: We care for you. And they stuck to that message.
Unidentified Man: What's this about?
Unidentified Group: Patient care.
Unidentified Man: What's this about?
YUEN: Toni Simmons(ph), an emergency room nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in downtown St. Paul, had no misgivings about walking off the job today.
Ms. TONI SIMMONS (Nurse, St. Joseph's Hospital): Very, very angry, very, very hurt. I don't know that I've ever been so angry in my life to the point where you could cry.
YUEN: The striking nurses want increased staffing levels. They're also protesting proposed cuts to their pension contributions.
Another ER nurse, Joanie Soames(ph), says changes in the medical field require her to spend more time documenting patient visits, leaving her less time for care. At the same time, she says, the patients arrive in worse shape.
Ms. JOANIE SOAMES (Nurse): Patients are sicker, they're a lot more sick than they used to be. They wait to come in because they don't have health insurance, so they go, I'll put it off, I'll put it off, I'll put it off.
YUEN: But the hospitals say the nurses' proposals would cost them millions. Maureen Shriner(ph) is a spokeswoman for the affected hospitals and says the union's argument that patients are suffering just isn't true.
Ms. MAUREEN SHRINER (Hospital Spokeswoman): The fact is patients receive excellent quality of care in our hospitals, and for the union to be talking about this and saying that it wants to improve patient safety, then it should be proposing more flexibility in the nurse staffing and not putting in more rigid rules.
YUEN: Minnesota isn't the only state with labor unrest at hospitals. Thousands of nurses in California were also poised to strike today before a judge blocked that plan. Gary Chaison is a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts. He predicts this will ripple across the country.
Professor GARY CHAISON (Professor of Labor Relations, Clark University): And I think one strike will lead to another and to another and to another, and we're going to have huge national upheaval among nurses because they feel as if they're being left out of the decision-making that's being made in health care institutions.
YUEN: Chaison says nurses are becoming more militant at a time when unions in other industries are losing influence. As health care reform forces hospitals to cut costs, nurses are feeling the squeeze. But Chaison says the striking nurses do have one advantage.
Prof. CHASION: Everyone likes nurses. It's very seldom that someone leaves a hospital and says what wonderful administrators they had at that hospital. But they do leave a hospital and they say what wonderful nurses there were. And I think people will recognize when nurses walk a picket line that they must have a serious problem.
YUEN: And that's something these Minnesota nurses hope the public will understand.
For NPR News, I'm Laura Yuen in St. Paul.
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