Nurses, Allina to resume talks after breaking for the night

Nurses picket outside Abbott Northwestern Hospital
Nurses picket outside Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis on Sept. 5.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

Following a marathon day of negotiations, Allina Health and striking union nurses will head back into bargaining Wednesday after agreeing to take a break late Tuesday night.

Talks had resumed Tuesday morning after a federal mediator called negotiators back to the bargaining table more than three weeks into an open-ended strike.

More than 4,000 nurses have been off the job since Labor Day in a dispute over health insurance.

It's the second work stoppage for rank-and-file union members. In June, the same group of nurses struck Allina for one week.

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After eight months of bargaining, the two sides returned to the table at odds over the details of Allina's proposal to shift nurses from their union-only health plans to less expensive corporate insurance. The union had agreed to the transition during a previous bargaining session, but talks broke down over how much nurses would be compensated for losing benefits and their desire for a say on any future changes to coverage.

As of Monday, Allina said more than 567 union nurses had signed up to work during the strike.

The company has filled the rest of its shifts with 1500 replacement nurses at the five affected metro hospitals: Mercy, United, Unity, Abbott Northwestern and the Phillips Eye Institute.

According to Allina, patient volumes have been normal at all of its facilities during the strike. However, some services have been cut or scaled back.

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

The Minnesota Nurses Association said its members have lined up side jobs for extra income, doing everything from dog grooming to working at the Ryder Cup.

Oct. 1 loomed over the talks because nurses had to return to work by then or risk losing the employer-paid portion of their health insurance. Nurses could retain their policies by paying the full premium, but that could be up to $2,500 for a month of family coverage.

The union says some nurses found replacement coverage, others could afford to wait and see because they could restore coverage if they need it — at least through November. Federal law allows someone to restore their employer sponsored insurance retroactively if they pay the full premium within 60 days of coverage ending.