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Contract negotiations stall between Allina, District One nurses
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Contract negotiations between Allina Health and the registered nurses union at District One Hospital in Faribault have stalled over the what the union says is the hospital system's unwillingness to include safety measures into its new agreement, measures it says Allina has at its other facilities.

The two parties have yet to reach an agreement on a new contract after meeting four times to negotiate since November, according to Lynn Auseth, the co-chair of the Minnesota Nurses Association at District One. The last negotiation meeting was Feb. 2 and no further meetings were scheduled as of Friday. District One's registered nurses are planning an informational picket at the hospital on Friday, Feb. 12.

Allina Health said in a statement that is it looking forward to scheduling another bargaining session soon to work toward a mutually agreeable contract.

The nurses' current contract is expired. Their contract is renewed every three years.

Allina Health is "committed to reaching a fair and equitable contract settlement" with the Minnesota Nurses Association employees, which total about 90 at District One. 

"Like all healthcare providers, Allina Health has experienced significant financial pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this difficult environment, we proposed a guaranteed wage increase of 5.5% over the first two years of the three-year contract," Allina said in a statement. 

MNA's proposal for "significant" wage and bonus pay increases is "simply unrealistic and out of step" with financial sacrifices other Allina employees have been asked to make, according to the statement. 

"We greatly value all of our employees, but need to continue to ensure that District One Hospital can be a stable asset for the community moving forward," according to the statement.

The sticking point in the contract negotiations for the nurses isn't the wages. Allina has offered to match District One nurses' wages with the wages of nurses at its Owatonna Hospital. Instead, the issue is the nurse union's request for safety measures in the contract, including adding language that Allina Health has with unions at its other facilities, Auseth said.

For the nurses, a good outcome for the negotiations would be adding language into the contract about safety and Allina meets them halfway on their overall requests, Auseth said. It’s disheartening to the nurses that Allina isn’t agreeing to some of their requests about safety, she said, and they want to be able to attract and retain nurses instead of losing them to other area health facilities that have better contracts.

“We’re not asking for a ton of things and we’re trying to advance our contract to where other contracts are in the area,” she said.

Making changes

The nurses are requesting that they are at the table for discussions when District One management considers changes to its staffing grids, Auseth said. The grids determine the number of nurses needed and the number of patients per nurse, which depends on how sick the patient is and the influx of patients in and out of the hospital.

Hospital management can change that grid at any time and the nurses aren’t currently included in the process to change it, she said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the nurses understand the need to change the grid, but they would like to be able to discuss it prior to the change, she said. They don’t want the hospital to be overstaffed because that’s a financial burden for the hospital, but they don’t want the hospital to be understaffed because that affects nurse and patient safety, she said.

The nurses are also requesting changes to incentives to pick up extra shifts beyond what is in their agreement. Nurses are asked to pick up shifts when a nurse is out sick, but the schedule is also created with holes that nurses have to pick up shifts to fill, Auseth said. They would like to not have nurses need to pick up extra shifts to fill those scheduling holes, but they are also asking for incentives such as bonus pay to do so. Other hospitals in the area provide those incentives to their nurses, she said.

The nurses are also asking for health and safety language such as having a safe workplace that’s free of violence and disrespect to be added into their contract. Allina already has those policies in place for its facilities and the nurses are asking for those policies to also become part of their contract, she said.

They’d also like language added about nurse and patient safety in terms of proper supplies and equipment.

Additionally, the nurses are asking to not use their vacation days if they need to stay home due to contracting or being exposed to COVID through work, she said. The nurses are using their vacation days to quarantine if they were exposed to COVID or have symptoms, or if they’re caring for a family member with COVID, and some of the nurses have exhausted their vacation days at this point, she said.

Middle School series connects students with professional musicians, composers
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Luella Coulter has learned that professional musicians give great advice.

As an orchestra student who plays the viola and the piano, Faribault Middle School sixth grader was one of dozens of music students who attended virtual Lunch with a Legend sessions with professional musicians, composers and singers during distance learning.

“They told us about why they wanted to play their instrument, what inspired them to do what they did,” Coulter said. “They told us about their music career and some tricks to get over stage fright and practicing trips.”

Coulter remembers one musician saying “just do it,” and performing will become more comfortable after a few times. Another encouraged the student musicians to forget about the audience altogether and “pretend you’re the only one there.”

The musicians who talked to these middle school students called in from Minnesota, Nashville London, and even Colombia. On Wednesdays from Dec. 2 through Feb. 3, students could select which sessions they wanted to attend based on their interests.

Faribault Middle School orchestra director Tammi Nelson got the idea for Lunch with a Legend from a colleague who teaches at a school out of state. She and FMS band director Elizabeth Barron and FMS choir director Amelia Tesdahl reached out to professionals they knew firsthand, through college or elsewhere, or through friends and family.

“They were all super excited to give back to the community because people helped them when they were fresh and most of them came from small towns,” Nelson said.

One musician Nelson contacted was her brother’s neighbor Jeff Coffin, saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band. He showed students how to do improvisations with various instruments, and Nelson herself was impressed with his skills.

Tesdahl added that Lunch with a Legend was particularly nice during this COVID-19 season as the artists reminded musicians like herself that there are still opportunities for musical expression during the pandemic.

Even post-COVID-19, Barron said, “In some fashion we would love to continue having kids exposed to professionals like this. I know my kids really enjoyed it. When they heard Wednesday was the last one, they were pretty sad.”

Sixth-grade orchestra student Amira Williams, who plays the bass, said the most interesting composer she listened to was Jacob Yoffee, who composed trailers for the “Star Wars” series and “Avengers: End Game.” She also listened to talks from Bryan Kidd, chief composer and arranger of the U.S. Navy band and violinist Genevieve Salamone.

Like Coulter, Williams recalls some of the advice the professionals shared.

“One person told us to just always practice, and it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you just practice and learn your instrument,” Williams said. “They all really just said just practice and love what you’re doing and enjoy it.”

Sixth grade choir student Dante Chrapliwy said he enjoyed the Lunch with a Legend series very much. His favorite speaker was Timothy Takach, a Minnesota composer who talked about his compositions and how he launched his career.

Chrapliwy’s feedback on Lunch with a Legend is: “They should definitely keep doing this.”

As lawmakers take up forfeiture reform, local police say current safeguards are enough

As police reform continues to be a hot button issue, State Auditor Julie Blaha took to the Capitol this week to discuss the “big story in the small numbers” with legislators: forfeitures.

“In 2019, the average size of a forfeiture under $1,500 was $473,” Blaha said. “While having a minimal financial benefit to the public safety system, to a Minnesotan this could mean the difference between making rent and experiencing homelessness.”

Blaha argued at legislation bill hearings this week that forfeitures do not seem to be disrupting crime, but local law enforcement in Rice and Steele counties disagree with Blaha’s stance.

“Forfeitures impact the community more than the police department,” said Owatonna Police Capt. Eric Rethemeier. “When we make a vehicle seizure from a DWI or a drug offense, the seizing of the vehicle is a result of a threat to public safety. These are typically high-level DWIs or multi-time offenders and when we receive determinations on those cases we distribute the proceeds for DWI enforcement, training, or educational purposes.”

According to the most recent report from the state auditor, 94% of 2019 forfeitures in Minnesota were related to DWIs or controlled substance abuse. Vehicles accounted for 65% of property seized, while cash was 25%. Firearms can also be subject to forfeitures.

Locally, the Owatonna Police Department processed 19 motor vehicle forfeitures in 2019. However, only five of those transactions brought in net proceeds to the department, totaling just over $7,000. The Steele County Sheriff’s Office processed five vehicle forfeitures, keeping one to outfit for the new K-9 officer and handler/deputy and netting $13,000 from another. The other three vehicles did not produce any additional proceeds.

In Rice County, the Sheriff’s Office processed 12 motor vehicle forfeitures and one motorcycle forfeiture. Five were returned to the owner of lien holder, while the remaining eight brought in proceeds just over $20,000. The Northfield Police Department processed four vehicle forfeitures and saw net proceeds of just under $3,000, while Faribault Police saw net proceeds of $1,000 after processing five forfeitures.

Rethemeier said there is a misconception that forfeitures are policing for profit, but asserts that simply is not the case. Aside from the money that may be made following the auction of forfeiture vehicles going into public safety measures, Rethemeier said there is a strict set of guidelines and requirements law enforcement must already follow to ensure the forfeiture is warranted and just. Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, who has testified at the state Legislature regarding the forfeiture process in the past, said the intent of forfeitures is to stop the commission of criminal activity, but that isn’t possible if the process isn’t legitimate.

“We want to make sure we’re not depriving someone from their property if they are an innocent owner,” Bohlen said, adding that the forfeiture of vehicles tends to be the more controversial side of the debate. “You don’t get to just take someone’s property – you have to give them a receipt and a court date so they have the ability to argue it if it’s not fair, and sometimes the judge will say we have to give it back.”

In the proposed legislation, House File 75, efforts to protect an “innocent owner” during a forfeiture is one of the biggest pushes of the bill. The bill would provide the ability for a person to bring an innocent owner claim by notifying the prosecuting authority in writing within 60 days of the service of the notice seizure, which would allow the authority to release the vehicle to the asserting person. If the prosecuting authority proceeds with the forfeiture, they must within 30 days file a separate complaint.

While Bohlen said he understands the importance of protecting innocent owners, who he says are typically people who are unaware their vehicle is being used for criminal activity such as transporting drugs or driving while intoxicated, he believes the current checks and balances are doing an appropriate job already.

“The days of law enforcement just taking everything from watches to jewelry to jet skis has gone by the wayside,” said Bohlen, who has been in law enforcement for 31 years. “People knock forfeitures as policing for profit, that we try to take someone’s car and sell it on auction just to make some money, but the reality is we have a lot of forfeitures that are worth nothing and we actually have to pay to store it and eventually get rid of it.”

Both Bohlen and Rethemeier said that drug task force units typically see more forfeitures, especially of nicer vehicles. Any money from forfeitures from those units are controlled by a board and allocated to pay for operations and equipment needs. Bohlen said some motor vehicle forfeitures by task forces may be used for undercover vehicles for agents as well.

“I think sometimes there is a misconception that those proceeds are used for wage increases, but that’s not the case,” Rethemeier said. “That money never supplements any budget items and most definitely isn’t used to increases wages for officers.”

Restricting the seizure of cash and property valued at less than $1,500 is also a crucial to HF 75, with Blaha saying that restricting small forfeitures will have “big benefits with little costs.” Though both local police departments largely see only motor vehicle forfeitures, it could still impact getting vehicles that are involved in intoxicated driving infractions off the road. Bohlen said it is not uncommon for those forfeitures to be worth only a couple hundred dollars.

“Those are the things we end up getting stuck with and have to bring to the salvage yard at some point,” Bohlen said. “But we are taking them because they are an instrument used to continue to drive intoxicated and hurt the public, and often times it is a repeated issue.”

HF 75 would also restrict forfeitures for driving while impaired infractions, limiting it to first-degree only.