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Bemidji nurses authorize strike

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Nurses at Sanford Bemidji Hospital overwhelmingly rejected management's concession-filled contract offer Thursday and instead voted to authorize a strike.

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"Our nurses spoke decisively today on behalf of our patients and our profession," said Peter Danielson, RN, chair of the Minnesota Nurses Association's (MNA) bargaining team, which represents 230 RNs at Sanford Bemidji. "While progress has been made during these negotiations regarding safe staffing language, it's not enough for corporate executives to say 'Trust us, we'll improve staffing,' and then leave it at that. We need a commitment, in writing, from these hospital executives. We also cannot accept a concession-laden contract that cripples our ability to recruit and retain the type of top-notch, professional nurses the people of this community deserve."

Now that nurses have formally rejected the hospital's offer and instead authorized their bargaining team to call for a strike, Danielson said nurse leaders would meet in the coming days to determine their next steps. No strike date has been set, and federal labor laws require that hospitals be given a 10-day formal notice before any type of strike can take place.

"Our nurses would love nothing better than to reach an agreement with management that is both fair to nurses and put patient safety - in writing - as its top priority," Danielson said. "The hospital has forced us into this position by refusing to honor either of those requests for the past several months."

Nurses and hospital management have been negotiating since April 2011 in efforts to reach a new contract agreement. Sanford Health, a growing corporate health giant that employs 18,000 workers across eight different states, recently bought the Bemidji hospital - previously known as North Country Regional Hospital - and is negotiating its first contract with members of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

Major sticking points in the talks have included safe staffing levels and the ability for nurses to have what they feel are adequate resources available for patient care at the bedside, according to Danielson. Other issues include hospital management's demand for major concessions from nurses regarding their healthcare and pension plans, a move that would make it extremely difficult for the hospital to recruit and retain top nurses.

The nurses' current agreement with Sanford Bemidji expired on February 28, 2011.

Founded in 1905, the Minnesota Nurses Association has represented Bemidji nurses for more than 30 years and represents more than 20,000 nurses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. MNA is also an affiliate of National Nurses United, which represents more than 170,000 RNs across the United States.

Please visit MNA's Bemidji page at http://www.mnnurses.org/Bemidji for more details and updates.

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