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.”