About 15,000 nurses in Minnesota went on strike Monday morning, saying they are fighting for better staffing and better care for their patients.
The strike is against 13 hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, as well as Duluth. It is scheduled to last only three days, and the union says the strike is not about pay but over letting members provide the quality of care they want to provide to patients.
“We are not on strike for our wages. We’re fighting for the ability to have some say over our profession and the work life balance,” said Mary Turner, a Covid ICU nurse and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, the union waging the strike.
The union said it has negotiated with hospital executives for more than five months, and its members have worked without contracts for the last several months. Although Turner said the two sides have been moving closer to one another on wages, they are still far apart on economic terms and have made no progress on the union’s demands to solve short-staffing, retention and better patient care.
Spokespeople for management at the various hospitals can not afford to meet the nurses demands, and that they are doing what is needed to provide patients with uninterrupted care during the strike.
“Allina Health is focused on delivering safe, high-quality care throughout the duration of the Minnesota Nurses Association’s 3-day strike,” said a statement from Allina Health, which owns four of the hospitals now on strike. “A strike is not our desired outcome these negotiations, and Allina Health has been thoughtfully planning for months.”
‘It isn’t okay’
Some of the nurses on the picket lines also said they didn’t want to be on strike, but they felt that management’s position left them no choice.
“It hasn’t been good,” said Brandy Navarro, a nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul. She said she joined the picket line Monday after working the Sunday night shift.
“To not feel valued, it isn’t okay,” she said. “And people just don’t know how not okay things are. We are standing up for our patients and standing up for each other.”
There are no talks scheduled for the two sides during the next three days, according to Paul Omodt, spokesperson for the Twin Cities Hospital Group, which owns four of the hospitals on strike.
“Our focus is on our patients at this time,” he said about the lack of negotiations.
“Our hospitals will be staffed with experienced nurse managers and leaders, trained replacement nurses, and some existing traveller nurses,” he said. “People may experience longer wait times for services while care teams triage patients. We ask everyone for patience.”
The strike is just the latest example of a growing trend of unions going on strike, or threatening to go on strike, over work conditions rather than strictly over wage and benefit questions.
Unions representing about 57,000 workers who make up train crews at the nation’s freight railroads are threatening to go on strike as of Friday, in what could be the first national rail strike in 30 years. Such a strike could knock the legs out from under the still-struggling supply chain and serve another body blow to the US economy.
More than 2,000 mental health professionals are on strike against Kaiser Permanente in California and Hawaii. The union members there say inadequate staffing is depriving patients of care and preventing them from doing their jobs effectively. And teachers in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike at the start of the school year complaining about large class sizes and dilapidated schools where a lack of heating and air conditioning has created miserable classroom environments. The school district, the largest in Ohio, quickly settled.
Turner said the members voted to limit the strike to three days at this time. She said she hopes management will now be willing to negotiate on the staffing and work rules issues that led to the walk-out.
“This is what we’re going to do for right now. What’s next, I can’t say,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll come back for the table.”