Why nurses voted to strike

After all we’ve been through with the cost of health care (the cost of the insurance, primarily) it is somewhere in the realm of baffling that anyone in the health care industry is feeling under-compensated. Some 9,000 Minnesota nurses on Wednesday voted a resounding “no” to their latest contract proposal. The PiPress story, by Jeremy Olson, explains, though, that money alone isn’t the issue, but that the affected hospitals are running very tight staffing schedules that nurses regard as hard on both them and their patients. Writes Olson: “The union plans a one-day strike to make a point, then have nurses resume work — holding off a longer work stoppage unless negotiations falter. But it may not be that simple. To lure enough temporary nurses to cover for one day, the hospitals may need to sign them to longer contracts and lock out the regular nurses until those contracts are up. The nurses voted on proposed cuts to their common pension plan and then voted separately on wage and benefit proposals offered by their respective employers — the Allina, Children’s, Fairview, HealthEast, North Memorial and Park Nicollet hospital systems. No system fared better than any other in the voting by about 8,200 of the union nurses. The hospital systems offered similar proposals, including wage increases of 1 percent and 2 percent in the second and third years of the contracts.” One and 2 percent is, I’m guessing, slightly less than than increases for top executives at UnitedHealth.

The Fox9 story, by Tim Blotz, says: “Maureen Schriner of Twin Cities Hospitals says they are offering a fair deal to the nurses. ‘The hospitals hope that the nurses take time to read through the contracts because it is a fair contract. The nurses are well compensated. You can earn $79,000 a year for the average full time position.’ But what nurses say they are demanding is more staffing on hospital floors. Many argue that they are having to compromise patient care because they’re being asked to do too much to cover for nursing shortages. Norma Doty is a nurse at Unity Hospital in Fridley. She says the hospitals don’t want to address the issue of patient care. ‘It’s not OK to start your shift and say what are the things that I absolutely have to get done in an 8-hour period of time and what are the things that I can maybe cut out and not do just so that I can do minimal care to people. That’s not what nursing is about. That’s not OK with us.’ “

More polling info today from that MPR/Humphrey Institute survey. Mark Zdechlik files the story. He says: “University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who oversaw the poll, said it clearly identified a backlash against government. ‘There is a political volcano that’s gone off in Minnesota. We’ve got more than three-quarters who say that they never, or only some of the time, trust government,’ Jacobs said. ‘We’ve got 55 percent who say that the federal government’s power is too much. We’ve got 61 percent who said they’d rather have smaller government with fewer services, and about half believe that President Barack Obama is moving the country towards socialism.’ ” The poll also asks about the public’s affinity for the Tea Party crowd: “[T]he poll shows while tea partiers might be the most vocal, more Minnesotans oppose the tea party movement than support it. While 20 percent said they support the tea party movement, 26 percent oppose it. Fifty percent said the tea party does not reflect the views of most Americans. The poll also shows that independent voters, who often decide elections, are less likely to cast ballots for tea party candidates.” Oh, and just to demonstrate our schizophrenia: “While the poll shows Minnesotans are angry and distrustful of government, it also found support for the economic stimulus plan. More Minnesotans said the federal government’s attempt to stimulate the economy made it better than made it worse.” Sometimes you just get dizzy.

You owe it to yourself to check out the political ad featured on the Strib’s Hot Dish Politics blog. Yeah, the guy’s running for ag commissioner in Alabama, but the interaction of personality, editing and props — love the rifle bit at the end — makes it the sort of thing you know media gurus will try here, somewhere, somehow.

Paul Mirengoff isn’t as reliably retrograde as John Hinderaker over on the Power Line blog. That may explain his failing to take the lockstep position on Tuesday’s primary elections around the country. He writes: “The main theme … is the continuation of the anti-incumbent trend. But it’s also true, I think, that the Democrats got the better of the evening.”

Marathon Oil is pulling out of Minnesota, selling its St. Paul Park refinery and its SuperAmerica gas stations. The Business Journal story, by Alex Ebert, says, “Marathon Oil Corp. intends to sell most of its Minnesota assets to three private-equity firms for more than $800 million, plus possible contingent payments over a number of years. … Houston-based Marathon, the fourth largest U.S. oil company and fifth largest refiner, entered into a non-binding letter of intent with ACON investments, NTR Partners and TPG Capital for “most of Marathon’s Minnesota downstream assets.”

The Wall Street Journal story adds: “Refining operations have been a drag for big oil companies and independent refiners alike. Persistently weak demand while oil prices rebounded over the last year squeezed margins, turning once-very-profitable enterprises into big money losers. Earlier this month, the company said its first-quarter earnings rose 62% as the company benefited from higher oil prices, though Marathon has seen its refining operations remain under pressure. The refining industry has dealt with weak margins and demand for more than a year, with some companies being forced to close refineries.”

Minnesota’s jobs numbers for April will be released today. MPR’s Annie Baxter says officials are anticipating good news. “Labor market analyst Steve Hine is hoping that the April numbers come out looking more like the national jobs report for last month. ‘Employment increased by 290,000 in April, and March was revised up over 200,000, and April’s now the fourth month in a row, every calendar month this year we’ve seen job gains’, Hine says. ‘The trend is distinctly in the right direction.’ In Minnesota, Hine says unemployment claims have been headed in the right direction. Total claims last month were about 31 percent lower than they were in April 2009.”

Here’s a shocker: You or your college-going child will being pay more for tuition next year at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. A report by MPR’s Tim Post says that with the state delivering less and less funding to education, and federal stimulus money running out, “The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board of trustees Wednesday voted to raise tuition by about 4.5 percent at state universities and two-year colleges. Last year, MnSCU raised tuition by 3 percent. The increase means students at the state’s community and technical colleges will pay an average of $4,902, about $200 more for classes next year — an increase of 4.4 percent. At the seven MnSCU universities, students will pay about $300 more — a 4.8 percent increase to $6,596.” He adds: “The end of the flow of stimulus money colleges have used to hold down tuition has the University of Minnesota concerned. A year at the U currently costs about $11,000. U of M spokesman Dan Wolter says the college will use federal money to keep its tuition increase down to 4.5 percent for in-state students next year. ‘The great unknown, I think, of course is for 2012-2013 when the federal stimulus dollars go away. Those are clearly some of the big issues we’ll be dealing with in the future.”

You’ve of course heard the one about the mayor who stole the toilet, right?
The Strib’s Paul Walsh covers the punishment handed down to Ely Mayor Roger Skraba. Writes Walsh: “Ely Mayor Roger Skraba was sentenced Tuesday in Duluth after admitting that he drove his snowmobile into the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) three years ago, broke into a U.S. Forest Service shed and stole a portable toilet.” Say that again? “Authorities learned of Skraba’s violations from photographs taken in March 2007 that showed Skraba removing a portable toilet from the Crooked Lake boathouse. His snowmobile could also be seen in the pictures. Authorities also learned that Skraba had not obtained the required permit to enter the BWCA on that date.

As part of Skraba’s terms of probation, Erickson also ordered that he arrange to pay all the back taxes he owes the IRS.” What? Back taxes? And a toilet?

Everyone likes to get up to the lake once in a while, especially if you’ve got a cozy little cabin. You know, an old wood-burning stove. Propane lights. A cooler. Life is grand. It’s better, of course, if your “cabin” sits on a $12 million compound sprawling across an entire peninsula. If you’re thinking, “I smell Denny Hecker,” you’re right. Hecker — who is wearing a GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet to keep him close to his $6 million Medina lake home (which he is a hair’s breadth from losing) — wants the judge to allow him to spend some time with his kids up at his … “cabin.” Writes the Strib’s Dee DePass: “Hecker said he wants to ‘spend quality time with his children [in a place] free from continuous public scrutiny.’ He said his ‘medical care professionals’ endorse the change in environment.” DePass, who has to be doing everrything she can to keep her eyes from rolling in print, adds, “According to the county assessor’s office, one of Hecker’s Crosslake properties is valued at $8.9 million. Two others contain buildings and are valued at $1.4 million and $1.48 million, respectively. It is unclear where on the estate Hecker intends to live. He described it as a ‘cabin.’ In his filing, Hecker noted that the government ‘was previously successful in thwarting’ his earlier request to visit Crosslake on the grounds that he was a flight risk and needed to be confined to his Medina residence. ‘The residence contemplated there will soon be unavailable. Crosslake is all that Defendant will soon have,’ the complaint said.” Aww, now that’s just sad.

Speaking of kicking back at the lake, how’d you like a golf ball in the back of the head while out lolling in your fishing boat? Cops up by Forest Lake are looking for four knuckleheads who drove balls from a golf course out over Shields Lake at a couple lazily fishing. Says Abby Simons in the Strib: “The 49-year-old woman was struck in the back of her head at 7 p.m. Sunday on Shields Lake, along the 15th hole of the Forest Hills Golf Club. Forest Lake Police Chief Clark Quiring said police arrived to find her in extreme pain and bleeding. She was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where she received stitches. She still has headaches and a large goose egg.”

Well, so much for that Twitter-Michelle Bachmann shtick Newsweek was having fun with. The magazine has pulled the plug on the bit. Editorsweblog reports: “In defending the tone of his profile piece, [writer Andrew] Romano writes that ‘…[he] HAD to find the next misstatement, the next money quote, the next telling detail, or else I wouldn’t have anything to tweet about. People would stop paying attention; the profile would peter out.’  In terms of the medium’s advantages, the author mentions tweeting his reports affords him ‘immediate interaction with readers’ and the ease with which he could network with other journalists and experts covering Bachmann. Ultimately the print version of the article was canned, primarily because of the congresswoman’s reaction (her office canceled his interview and refused to reschedule) to the initial tweets.” I call “party pooper.”

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/20/2010 - 09:39 am.

    That is a great political ad. You’ll have to track the results of that race.

    I can almost hear the gears spinning in Rep. Tom Emmer’s head. ‘No one, but no one, is going is going to out conservative me!’ I almost look forward to the ads from all three candidates. Although I still chuckle when I think of Ventura’s toy soldier ads.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/20/2010 - 10:06 am.

    “One and 2 percent is, I’m guessing, slightly less than than increases for top executives at UnitedHealth.”

    I have no idea what top executives are making; it’s not one of my concerns. But I do know that my collegues and I are taking home 10% less this year than we did last year, and we are far from alone.

    For many working families, a 0% increase would be huge. 2%? Stop your kiddin’.

  3. Submitted by Paul Scott on 05/20/2010 - 10:37 am.

    Jacobs produced a poll that allowed him to use the word “volcano” in a news article, so you have to figure he produced a win there for himself, but I would like to know if the poll asked people about specific government services that they find intrusive or over expended in their own lives, which I doubt it did. Because, my guess is if you asked that question you quickly learn he is picking out a signal about an ideological abstraction, one likely produced by a diet high in refined corn snacks and cable news shows, rather than a a response to something genuine in the social safety net.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/20/2010 - 10:45 am.

    Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that hospitals and the nurses union have opted to play this out in the media, at subtantial cost, rather than sit down and find a solution? I’d find the situation amusing, if it weren’t for the patients.

  5. Submitted by Susan Peterson on 05/20/2010 - 10:45 am.

    So, Mr. Swift, you have no problem with those who “manage” enterprises skimming off huge salaries and bonuses for themselves while the people who do the work and create the value get less and less? It’s “no concern of yours” what the grossly overpaid executives earn, but it is your concern what the nurses who work nights, holidays and double shifts caring for the sickest of the sick are paid? Hmmmm, that makes a lot of sense….

  6. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 05/20/2010 - 11:18 am.

    I know quite a few nurses and have worked with at least 100 nursing professionals on resume projects. Nurse are not by nature union folk.

    When these nurses say it’s about the quality of patient care, I believe them. I believe them because I’ve never worked with an RN seeking non-hospital employment who wasn’t burned out by understaffing driven by overpaid hospital administrators.

    Thanks to “improved” business management practices, hospitals are once again where you go to die, not to get better.

    If hospitals offered the same pay with increased staffing, there would be no strike. In fact, if hospitals offered a pay cut with increased staffing, I’d bet money the nurses union would OK it.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/20/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    As I understand it, experienced nurses “skim off” about $80k/yr (not including overtime, or shift differentials)…not quite in the sweet spot for tax hungry leftists, but not chicken scratch either.

    Toss in a pension (I had to look that word up), and we’re talking pretty comfortable, IMO.

    What confuses me is, I recall the MNA was a big supporter of Obamacare. If they think they have an uncomfortable staffing ratio now, I can’t imagine what will happen when the flood gates open.

  8. Submitted by Robert Langford on 05/20/2010 - 03:24 pm.

    I really believe Tom needs to spend a few days hospitalized. If he really thinks Nurses are overpaid, or as he puts it “skim off”, he should observe what they do, and he would understand their legitimate concern about understaffing. The hospital administrators are rewarded with oversize bonuses derived from reducing the quantity and quality of patient care, and Nursing positions in many hospitals, including those now threatened by strikes, have too many patients per Nurse. It is dangerous for patients. If Tom were to just visit the bargaining hospitals and learn about conditions, he would soon realize how large and real the issue is for patients as well as the Nurses.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/20/2010 - 04:14 pm.

    Robert, I didn’t say I thought nurses were overpaid; as can clearly be seen, I said they were “comfortable”. Maybe $80k plus benefits is chicken feed in your neck of the woods; I dunno. I borrowed the “skimming” reference from Susan, because, well I just thought it was so darned quaint.

    Considering how many of my comments are removed or censored altogether, I really don’t need anyone “rewriting” those that do somehow make it.


  10. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/20/2010 - 04:48 pm.

    This is an issue that won’t go away and it will be with us for a long long time to come.

  11. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 05/20/2010 - 06:04 pm.

    Call it like it is Tom. Skimming in this context is a deliberate insult. You are saying that nurses cash their paychecks without doing any meaningful work in return.

    Nursing is SKILLED work performed for a wage.

    Maybe you could give us a list of which occupations EARN their big paychecks, and which do not?

    I have no trouble at all with the notion that some folks are overpaid, and would be glad to sign on to any crusade you initiate to scale back wages for CEOs, CFOs, bankers and investment hustlers.

    Or is there something different about male dominated professions that makes them worthier of higher pay in your eyes?

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/20/2010 - 08:55 pm.

    The hospitals make more than $7 billion a year in revenue. Thus the nurses’ pension costs are roughly 1.14 percent out of the hospitals’ yearly revenue.

    Pension funding equals about one percent of these hospital systems’ annual revenue. It’s a minimal expense. These hospitals aren’t going to be closing their doors in order to pay nurses the retirement benefits they’ve been earning for nearly five decades.

    The hospitals’ current proposal would put the nurses’ pension benefits back to 1968 levels. Gas cost 34 cents a gallon in 1968, when a new house cost around $15,000.

  13. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/21/2010 - 09:30 am.

    Just FYI for others commenting about the “1 or 2 percent” raise for nurses. It’s a lot more than I was ever paid as a teacher, but the level of responsibility also seems higher than the “average worker” that hospital spokespersons refer to. By way of comparison to that “average worker,” the CEO of UnitedHealth was paid $102 million last year, according to an “Executive Pay Watch” article in the ‘Strib. UnitedHealth spokespeople said that his pay was “about average” for CEOs of health insurance companies.

    In return, he provided no health care whatsoever, but attended meetings and signed letters. One hopes that investors got a nice ROI if they’re paying him that much.

    I’d argue that nothing the UnitedHealth CEO has done, or will do, in his lifetime merits that level of financial compensation. Meanwhile, Mark Gisleson’s last paragraph above is probably accurate, based on what I’ve seen from relatives who are RNs.

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