Union: Striking nurses to vote Monday on Allina contract offer

Minnesota Nurses
Allina Health nurses protest outside Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis on Sept. 5.
Jim Mone | AP

After three long days of negotiations, the Minnesota Nurses Association said it will let its members decide whether to approve Allina Health's latest contract proposal. Union negotiators said in a statement that they are "not making a recommendation" on the offer.

The rank and file will vote Monday on the three-year package, which would be retroactive to June 1.

The headway in the contract dispute comes after a federal mediator brought both sides back to the bargaining table Tuesday morning.

The nurses' union did not disclose contract terms. But Allina Health said in a statement that the proposal "addresses all the issues raised by the union."

More than 4,000 Allina nurses have been off the job since Labor Day in a dispute that has mainly centered on health insurance. The two sides were also at odds over staffing levels and workplace violence — though negotiators had recently reached agreements in principle on those issues.

The major sticking point delaying a deal was Allina's proposal to shift nurses from their union-only health plans to less expensive corporate insurance.

The union vigorously fought the proposal for months and then reluctantly agreed to the transition in a marathon 22-hour bargaining session in early September. However, the union insisted that members be compensated for losing benefits and demanded the union have a say on any future changes to their health coverage. Allina said the union was asking for too much and broke off negotiations.

The company said its new proposal makes "no benefit changes" to the Allina First plan, its most popular corporate insurance offering, or to the nurse-only plans for the duration of the contract. Allina said it also agreed it would not make changes to the Allina First plan that would reduce its actuarial value by more than 7 percentage points every three years.

If nurses approve the deal, the union said its negotiators "will promptly meet with Allina to execute a strike settlement agreement."

The open-ended strike began on Labor Day. It was the second walkout at Allina this year. In June, the same group of nurses struck the hospital system for one week.

Contract talks have spanned eight months, and grown increasingly contentious. Allina's CEO has accused the union of spreading lies. The nurses accused Allina of union-busting for giving regular updates on the number of nurses crossing the picket line.

As of Monday, Allina said more than 567 union nurses had signed up to work during the strike. The company filled the rest of its shifts with 1,500 replacement nurses at its five affected metro hospitals: Mercy, United, Unity, Abbott Northwestern and the Phillips Eye Institute.

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

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

The strikes have also been costly for nurses — though it isn't clear how costly because their weekly hours vary widely and many found replacement work.

The nurses health insurance coverage is slated to run out Saturday unless they pay the full premium.

The Minnesota Nurses Association said its members lined up side jobs doing everything from dog grooming to working at the Ryder Cup and holding garage sales. The union also issued hardship payments totaling $130,000 to some nurses who applied to its strike fund.

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