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Sanford Bemidji Medical Center RNs to vote on contract Tuesday

The members of the Minnesota Nurses Association union at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center will vote Tuesday whether to ratify a contract with Sanford Bemidji Medical Center administration.

Dan Engelhart, labor relations specialist, said the MNA bargaining team came to a tentative agreement with the Sanford administration Sept. 7 and recommends a yes vote today to ratify the compromise contract.

Registered nurses at the hospital voted by a large majority July 28, the day their contract expired, to reject the contract offered at that time by Sanford management. The MNA bargaining team represents 230 nurses at Sanford hospital. Nurses and hospital management had been negotiating since April.

The July 28 vote authorized the bargaining team to call a strike if needed. Federal labor laws require that the hospital receive a 10-day notice prior to the strike date, which would be set by the bargaining team.

Now, Engelhart said, with ratification of the compromise contract, a strike can be avoided.

"We are very optimistic we will ratify the proposal and move on and focus on the care of patients," said Joy Johnson, Sanford Bemidji chief operations officer.

"I think it's good," said Engelhart. "It was the best case scenario we could get, given the bargaining environment."

He said the staffing language is similar to the previous proposal, but "with a little more teeth and a timeline."

The other point at issue for the MNA bargaining team was the transfer of benefits to the Sanford system and the change from a pension system to a 401k.

"All current employees will stay with what they're used to," he said. "They will have a defined benefit pension, all current employees, which is something Sanford doesn't offer anywhere else."

However, all new hires will receive the standard Sanford benefits, Engelhart said.

He said the big change will be in the health care benefits. The registered nurses had been insured under Blue Cross Blue Shield with a zero deductible and more affordable contribution. They will have a $750 deductible under the proposed contract.

Sanford Health is headquartered in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Sanford merged with North Country Regional Hospital in February. The acquisition, along with Sanford Bemidji Clinic (the former MeritCare Bemidji Clinic) formed Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

Founded in 1905, the MNA has represented Bemidji nurses for more than 30 years and represents more than 20,000 nurses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.