2/2/08

SEIU to serve healthy mini-strike in labor-state

Nurses and other workers at 29 HealthPartners clinics in Minnesota are prepared to strike for two days, Feb. 13 and 14, if they don't get a contract with tougher workplace and patient safety standards.

The Service Employees Union International provided written notice to HealthPartners about the planned work stoppage after the contract for 1,495 workers expired Thursday night. The Bloomington-based health system is creating backup plans to keep its medical and dental clinics open those days.

Borrowing ideas from nursing contracts in California, the local workers want to use arbitrators to settle disputes with doctors or clinic administrators over workplace safety, said Ryan Nagle, a spokesman for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. While safety discussions already take place, the arbitration requirement will add "some teeth to those discussions," Nagle said, and ensure that concerns are addressed.

The stance seems odd considering that HealthPartners has been honored for its team approach to patient care, said Dr. Brian Rank, medical director for the health system's clinics.

"Our nurse-to-physician staffing ratio is comparable or better than other large clinic systems in our community," Rank said in a written statement, "and our clinic staff members have multiple systems to anonymously report any safety or compliance concerns for investigation and resolution."

SEIU does not have similar language in other clinic contracts, but workers at HealthPartners are looking to set a new standard, Nagle said. Other traditional issues such as pay and benefits have largely been addressed, he said.

HealthPartners offered a three-year contract with 3 percent raises each year, cheaper group health coverage for retirees, and other benefits.

SEIU represents mostly support workers at area hospitals, while the Minnesota Nurses Association represents the hospitals' registered nurses. In this instance, SEIU represents clinic nurses, physician assistants, dental hygienists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, opticians and others.

(twincities.com)

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