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Striking nurses and Allina remain at a standstill on day 10

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Minnesota Nurses
Allina Health nurses protest outside Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis on Sept. 5 as they began an open-ended strike.
Jim Mone | AP

As the Allina nurses strike enters its 10th day, neither side is showing any sign of bending soon. 

The picket lines outside five metro area hospitals are noticeably smaller this week. The Minnesota Nurses Association estimates that 1,200 nurses are picketing Allina now, compared to a showing of 2,500 nurses in the first days of the strike, which began Labor Day.

Union spokesperson Rick Fuentes said that's a good sign showing many nurses have found nursing work at different hospitals or elsewhere.

"Some of them are getting hired temporarily at other events such as the upcoming Ryder Cup," he said.

The union doesn't track which members have found outside work during the strike. But Fuentes said informally nurses are sharing stories with the union about the many ways they're making ends meet, from walking and grooming dogs to holding garage sales.

"They're in it for the long haul," he said. "They've mentioned not being surprised if this takes five, six, seven weeks."

Allina Health said it would be unfortunate if the strike lasted that long. And if it does go that long, Allina says, so be it. 

However, company spokesperson David Kanihan said there's no guarantee Allina's last contract offer will remain on the table once talks resume. That offer addressed many of the nurses concerns, he said, but those provisions may not be economically viable since the company is now spending millions to replace strikers. 

"You know the longer the strike goes on it does reduce our flexibility somewhat at the bargaining table," Kanihan said.

Allina won't say what it has spent on this strike. But a one-week walkout in June cost the company $20 million.

The number of nurses crossing the picket line continues to grow, though the pace has slowed. As of Tuesday evening, it totaled over 450. 

It's not clear how much the strike is costing nurses either because their weekly hours vary widely.

No new negotiations have been scheduled since the strike began. Kanihan said Allina isn't inclined to request talks without some assurance that the union is willing to concede more on the one remaining sticking point: the company's proposal to shift nurses from their union-only insurance to the company's less-expensive corporate plans.  

"We don't want to have a bargaining session that's not productive," Kanihan said. 

The rhetoric from both sides reinforces the likelihood of a drawn-out strike, said John Budd, a University of Minnesota labor relations expert.

"Both sides have to sort of maybe experience some cost and some pain to get them back to the bargaining table and a reminder of how unproductive it is to be without an agreement," Budd said. "And so sometimes these things just take a while to play through."

A mediator could call both sides back to the bargaining table at any time. 

But Budd said mediators usually want to see some movement first.

"Sometimes the mediator just feels like the parties are too far apart and it's not going to be productive to bring them together," he said.

As the strike wears on, the stakes will rise. 

On Oct. 1, striking nurses will lose their health insurance. 

And for Allina, each week that passes with no deal means the company has to extend the costly contracts of its replacement nurses.