Dressed in black, Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and critical care nurse at North Memorial Health, told reporters earlier this month that after failing to reach an agreement with hospital leaders at the table bargaining, the union would go ahead with a strike it voted to authorize in August.
“It’s a dark day,” she said. Citing a “retention crisis” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses described a culture of burnout, excessive hours, unfair compensation and a lack of workplace protections.
The nurses voted for a three-day strike that lasted from September 12 until the morning of September 15, after weeks of fruitless negotiations. A total of 15 Minnesota hospitals are involved. Allina, Children’s and Fairview were among the Twin Cities hospitals affected, along with HealthPartners Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park and North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale. In Duluth, Essentia and nurses at St. Luke’s Hospitals also picketed.
In addition to secure staffing levels, the nurses are demanding pay increases of more than 30% by the end of the three-year contract. Hospitals have only offered 10-12%, saying the union’s figure is “unreasonable, unrealistic and unaffordable”. Allina and Fairview both posted operating losses this year.
“Corporate health policies in our hospitals have left nurses understaffed and overworked, while patients are overworked, hospitals and local services are closed and executives take home million dollar paychecks. dollars,” said Chris Rubesch, registered nurse at Essentia in Duluth and senior vice president. of the Minnesota Nurses Association, in a statement. “Nurses have a priority in our hospitals, caring for our patients, and we are determined to fight for fair contracts so that nurses can stay at the bedside to provide the quality care our patients deserve.”
The Minnesota Nurses Association shared a 300% increase in reports of unsafe staff levels on their shifts since 2014. Nurses with less than a year’s experience were said to work in chief, and nurses have had to supervise more patients at a time.
During the week of the strike, affected hospital systems employed traveling nurses through agencies to maintain staffing, with the strike costing at least “tens of millions”. Hospitals paid $7,000 to $12,000 per replacement nurse, plus travel, accommodation and training costs.
“If money were really our only ambition in this whole endeavor, we’d all be travel nurses right now,” Turner said. “You can’t get treatment when the nurses aren’t there.”
Negotiations for the overdue three-year contracts began in March, and the nurses worked without contracts in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports for most of the summer.
“Minnesota nurses rank among the highest paid in the nation, consistently in the top ten of all states,” read a statement from several Twin Cities hospitals. “The average Minnesota nurse earns $80,960.”
“Hospitals have seemingly focused on profits instead of coming together to develop strategies to help us provide the safest and best care possible,” said Tracy Dietrich, a nurse at Children’s Minnesota. “We have faced furloughs, unit closures, layoffs, extremely reduced staffing and threats to our safety, and through it all, we have always shown up to care for patients.”
In 2016, Allina nurses called two strikes that lasted a total of 44 days for better health benefits. In 2010, nurses at Twin Cities hospitals went on strike for a day.
The number of healthcare workers in the United States has not recovered since the pandemic, down 37,000 in total from February 2020.
The nurses’ strike in Minnesota could be a sign that more like this will cross the country. In Michigan, 4,000 nurses from the Michigan Nurses Association voted to authorize a strike, and a nurses’ strike in Wisconsin by nurses from UW Health was narrowly averted.
So what happens next? The nurses resume their work from Thursday, with the hope that the strike will mark the continuation of the negotiations. Several bargaining sessions have been canceled due to the strike this week.
“We are the ones showing all workers, everywhere in America, how to fight and what it means to defend their contracts, but not only,” Turner declared on the last full day of the strike, “stand up for the workers of America.