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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nurses in Minnesota, California set Strike Dates

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of nurses in Minnesota and California on Friday announced plans to walk off the job for a single day next month if they don't reach contract agreements with hospitals.

The nurses — 12,000 in the Minneapolis area and nearly 13,000 at hospitals across California — both set June 10 as a strike date. The walkout stands to be the largest in U.S. history.

Nurses in California say low staffing levels are their main concern. In Minnesota, nurses cited that along with pay and pension issues in authorizing a strike last week. On Friday, the Minnesota nurses said filing notice of intent to strike was necessary to get the hospitals to move on negotiations.

"There is no way to meaningfully negotiate when one side doesn't show up," Nellie Munn, a registered nurse at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis and a negotiator, said.

Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota hospitals, said the strike notice "clearly shows the union is interested only in a strike and has demonstrated that it does not want to negotiate in good faith."

She said the hospitals would detail their plans to respond to a walkout next week. "The hospitals will take the steps necessary to maintain patient safety," she said.

The two sides are scheduled to meet with federal mediators Wednesday and next Friday.

A strike would affect thousands of patients at 14 hospitals in Minnesota, but it wouldn't affect two of the largest Twin Cities hospitals, Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and Regions Hospital in St. Paul, nor two large suburban hospitals that don't have union nurses or a contract up for renewal.

In California, National Nurses United bargaining director Jill Furillo said the one-day strike on June 10 would involve nurses from all University of California hospitals, Citrus Valley Medical Center in Covina, San Pedro Hospital and Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The union says there isn't enough staff to treat patients, requiring more attention from nurses. UC spokeswoman Leslie Sepuka dismissed that, saying safety is a top concern and the hospitals follow the law.

California law requires hospitals to maintain specific staffing levels in different areas of the hospital. For example, one nurse must be present for every two critically ill patients.

UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center oncology nurse Manny Punzalan said on weekends, evenings and lunch breaks, nurses frequently double up on their patient load because there are no nurses dedicated to cover breaks at many UC hospitals.

Last month at UCLA, an intensive care nurse assigned to one critical patient took on two more critical patients so a fellow nurse could take a lunch break, Punzalan said.

During the break, one patient went into atrial fibrillation, which means their heart stopped pumping properly, requiring immediate attention.

"All the other nurses jumped in and helped that patient, but you can imagine a time when other nurses are busy" in a critical care unit, said Punzalan.