NEWS DAY | Debt buyers / Nurses’ strike / North Minneapolis shootings

Debt buyers hound, harass, and defraud people who may never have owed a dime to begin with, according to an alarming exposé in the Star Tribune.

Firms with little known names, like LVNV Funding and Unifund CCR Partners, buy massive databases of unpaid debts for cents on the dollar, and then inundate courts with legal actions seeking to collect the full amount, plus interest and fees. These firms, known as debt buyers, base their claims on data up to 15 years old that can be impossible to verify.

The National Consumer Law Center, an advocacy group for low-income Americans, estimates that one in 10 debt-buyer lawsuits nationwide is based on inaccurate information. Bank accounts have been tapped, wages seized and people threatened with arrest for debts they don’t owe or for inflated amounts.

The Strib article has names, numbers and horrifying true stories – a great job reporting an under-the-radar story that’s of crucial importance.

A combination of lack of regulation, consumer inattention to legal notices, and courts rubberstamping default judgments allows the debt buying firms to get away with abuse and outright fraud. The Strib article was published in the print edition a few days ago (Sunday, if memory serves), and has just been posted online. It includes some judges’ suggestions for ways the legislature could act to regulate the industry – anybody listening in the legislature or Congress?

Nurses and hospitals appear headed for an open-ended strike, beginning July 6. Both nurses and hospitals said they made concessions, but that further negotiations are useless. According to MPR, the nurses’ union said it remains ready to return to bargaining any time and anywhere in hopes of avoiding a strike. The hospitals said they made concessions on pensions and work rules, but nurses said the work rules “concession” was just a letter saying that they would form a committee to talk, and that this has already been tried and failed. According to the Star Tribune report:

Nurse-to-patient staffing ratios are the key issues for the union. The MNA says nurses are stretched too thin, and patient safety is at risk. Nurses have proposed cementing ratios in their contract, but the hospitals have rejected it, saying that it would cost them $250 million year without evidence that it improves the quality of patient care.

Nurses have previously pointed to the hospitals’ $750 million in profits last year as evidence that they can afford the changes.

The Pioneer Press notes:

The offer [made late on Tuesday] came with a midnight deadline, though, and it was ultimately rejected by the union. In a statement, the union noted a task force to study patient loads had been tried before without meaningful change. It also stated that the hospitals had too many strings tied to its offer to withdraw pension cuts, including an immediate halt to strike plans for July 6 and other concessions.

The nurses staged a one-day strike on June 10, but the July 6 strike will be open-ended. According to the Strib article, Allina told nurses that if they are going on strike, they need to “clean out their lockers” and return any hospital-issued pagers and cell phones.

“Seven hours, seven victims in North Minneapolis” said the Star Tribune headline describing Monday’s shootings. The subhead – “Despite a sobering night on the North Side, the number of shootings hasn’t risen dramatically this year.” – accurately describes the crime stats. One bad day, one bad week doesn’t mean an overall upswing in crime in Minneapolis, and it’s responsible reporting to note that. But a couple of tweets highlight a different angle:

@NickColeman – What negative media?? 7 people shot o/night in N. Mpls but no worries: Upbeat Strib says it’s normal.

@RonSalzberger – Imagine the Strib making the same observations about seven shootings in the vicinity of 50th and France. Hard, eh?

(Tweet attribution corrected, 6/30/2010, 4:30 p.m.)

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