In response to nearly a year of failed negotiations between Hastings nurses and Allina Health, union nurses from across the metro plan to picket in February in support of a new contract.
The Minnesota Nurses Association, the union that represents 5,000 Allina nurses in the state, had its latest bargaining session with Allina Friday, asking for a pension plan and better health insurance for Allina nurses at Regina Medical Center in Hastings.
Allina rejected the proposal, according to Jan Rabbers, spokeswoman for the association, offering a 401K plan instead. It also rejected a plan to bring Hastings nurses' health benefits up to par with other Allina nurses in the state, she added.
A Feb. 11 picket is planned at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
Rabber said Hastings nurses are not getting the same benefits as other Allina nurses in the state. About 100 Hastings Allina nurses are members of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
"All Allina nurses are concerned that this type of behavior will expand into other communities as well, including the metro area," she said.
Allina offered the pension and health benefits to nurses at their facilities in Buffalo, Cambridge, River Falls, and others over the past three years, but not to Hastings, she added.
Allina Health spokesman Tim Burke said Allina declined to comment on the issue.
"At this point, we have been withholding any comment just so we can keep negotiations as friendly and work-like as possible," Burke said.
A federal mediator was brought in two months ago to work with both parties. Negotiations began with the hospital's previous owner about other items in the contract last May. Allina purchased the facility in August, and negotiations "turned a corner" when that happened, Rabbers said.
Nurses have been working under an old contract that was renewed in December as negotiations for a new contract continued. The situation with Hastings nurses is uncommon, she added.
"It hasn't happened all that frequently, but I think with more mergers and acquisitions, as more community hospitals get bought out by corporate health care, this may become more of an issue," Rabbers said.
All Allina nurses as well as other nurses in the union, which represents more than 20,000 members, are invited to participate in the informational picket. Hastings nurses held a previous picket outside their hospital on Tuesday.
"When a larger corporation comes in, it changes the field of play. And since August, the main issue is that, if you're going to come in, and be part of this community, then don't treat the community second-rate," Rabbers said. "If they're treating the nurses like this, how will they treat the community?"
Rabbers emphasized that the picket is not a strike, but an expression of solidarity.
Editor's note: This story originally stated that thousands of nurses are expected to picket. The picket is planned but the Minnesota Nurses Association said it's unclear how many union nurses will picket. The story originally incorrectly stated that nurses will chanting "chance."