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Nurses set 7-day strike at Allina hospitals

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Nurses vote in St. Paul.
Nurses show up to the Minnesota Nurses Association voting center in St. Paul wearing red to show their support for the association on Monday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: June 9, 3:21 p.m. | Posted: June 8, 7:36 p.m.

The Minnesota Nurses Association said Wednesday it has told Allina Health executives it plans to strike for seven days starting at 7 a.m. Sunday, June 19.  

The nurses union says the strike involves around 5,000 nurses at Abbott Northwestern, United, Mercy, Unity and Phillips Eye Institute. 

"Nurses are prepared to send a week-long message to Allina," Angela Becchetti, a registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern, said in an emailed statement. "This contract is about more than just health insurance. It's about the staffing our patients receive. It's about the safety of our fellow nurses from assault. It's about the care our families depend on." 

Earlier this week, nurses rejected a contract offer that would have nurses abandon their high-value health coverage set out in past contracts. Allina wants the nurses in plans offered to other employees. That insurance comes with lower monthly premiums but much greater potential out-of-pocket costs.

In a statement Wednesday, Allina Health said its proposal included wage increases "as well as provisions that address the union's interests in staffing and workplace safety."

The statement also said if the strike happens, all metro-area hospitals "will remain open, providing excellent care with highly skilled, experienced nurses partnering with our other outstanding caregivers."

Allina spokesperson David Kanihan said the two sides can head off a strike by hammering out a transition plan.

"We're anxious to get back to the bargaining table and have [a] meaningful discussion around these issues, but our position hasn't changed. We feel that meaningful discussion around a transition of the health plans has to be part of those discussions," he said. 

Like the nurses, the company has been preparing as well for a possible strike. If it happens,  Allina facilities will be operating with replacement nurses come Sunday morning, he added.

"Our message  to everyone is that our hospitals will be open and caring for patients in the event of a strike no matter what the duration  of that strike," he said. "We are well prepared."

No new negotiations have been scheduled.

The way the dispute is playing out is not promising, said University of Minnesota labor relations professor John Budd.

"It certainly wouldn't surprise me if there's  a strike at this point," he said.

Budd said he was surprised that the union called the strike so soon after the authorization vote and before a last-ditch negotiating session. 

He was equally surprised by Allina's public insistence that the health insurance transition has to be a part of any new contract. 

Allina could have encouraged a resumption of talks without reiterating that demand, he added.

"I think it might reflect just how far apart the parties seem to be," Budd said. "Maybe it reflects a calculation on the union side that management hasn't budged and so we really need to ramp up the pressure."