Henrietta Ofori has been a long time nursing assistant at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. Her job is difficult, and she says that “We work so hard. When you go home, you’re so tired, you’re exhausted. You have to work overtime to make ends meet.”
Nursing assistant members of SEIU have delivered petitions for a 5% wage increase to the leadership of eight Twin Cities Hospitals. They have asked for a wage increase on the basis of the long hours they work and the low pay in comparison to other area hospitals.
Last Thursday a contingent of nursing assistants presented 13 and a half cardboard cutouts describing their working conditions and challenges to the Park Nicollet Methodist HR office. The office was closed but according to 23-year nursing assistant veteran Cindy Davis, “we proceeded onto the scheduling manager upstairs and we were able to have a conversation with that manager about the importance of having a 5% raise and working all the overtime and how it’s affected us.”
The Union argues that the current wage scales are insufficient in the job market, resulting in burnout and high aid-to-patient ratios that endanger the health and safety of patients and staff.
Nursing assistants want to bargain a wage increase/market adjustment right now. The current contracts do not expire until February 28, 2021. These hospitals negotiate with SEIU together under a multi-employer agreement.
The wage scales at these hospitals are 5% lower than the scales for SEIU members at Allina Hospitals.
NAs at Park Nicollet Methodist hospital have worked 28,279 hours above their scheduled hours so far in 2019. That’s 3,535 shifts and equivalent to the work of 13.5 full-time NAs for one year.
When Nursing Assistants pick up so many extra shifts, they lose sleep and are at greater risk of injury and making mistakes. When the patient-to-assistant ratio is high, it is impossible to provide excellent quality care to patients.
Ofori further explained that due to the low wages the holiday period is a struggle, “December is here. We cannot even afford to give our kids Christmas presents. Why? We have to pay rent, we have to pay car insurance, we have to get groceries. Use all of our paycheck. You have nothing to give your kids Christmas presents. That’s so sad.”
A representative with HealthPartners responded to questions about the status of the contract and the ask for a 5% wage increase with the following statement:
“Our nursing assistants are an important part of our care teams and we value their dedication and skills. They’re currently working under a contract negotiated through their union last year. Members voted to ratify that contract and its salary structure. We are listening to their concerns and we feel that the appropriate time to address them will be during the next contract negotiation.”
Nursing assistants play a foundational role in patient care in Twin Cities hospitals. They work at a patient’s bedsides with their loved ones. They help patients take showers, eat meals, dress wounds, use the bathroom, and provide moral support. They take vitals and are the eyes and ears for nurses and doctors. They run for supplies, listen and console, share knowledge, and communicate with the whole care team. Nursing assistants simply want the hospitals to pay fair wages in order to attract, retain and recognize the vital role nursing assistants play in providing care.