Strike of about 15,000 Minnesota nurses continues into second day

A woman speaks at a podium
Children's Minneapolis nurse Doreen McIntyre describes the stress she felt from rationing PPE during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference in Minneapolis, Minn. on Sept. 13, 2022.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

Nurses were back on the picket lines Tuesday morning to start the second day of their three-day walkout in the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports.

About 15,000 nurses at 15 hospitals have walked out. The strike, which began at 7 a.m. Monday, is expected to end early Thursday morning. Minnesota Nurses Association leaders have said it's likely the largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history. Union officials said no negotiations are currently planned during the strike period.

Nurse Judy Goebel and a small crowd of her colleagues stood beside Smith Avenue in St. Paul on Tuesday morning, glaring at a line of people boarding a bus behind a tarp near Children’s Hospital.

“We’re watching the replacement nurses get on the bus. I think it’s kind of sad that it’s come to this point. I am on the negotiating team at Children’s in St. Paul. Our sticking point is staffing. We want to have a voice in staffing,” Goebel said.

Union nurses have been in negotiations since March, and working without a contract since early summer. The main sticking points are wage increases, retention, staffing and safety concerns, as well as addressing ongoing burnout, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No negotiations planned

Outside Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis, 4-year-old Eliza Murray led a chant for striking nurses before a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

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“When I say nurses, you power. Nurses!” she yelled. “Power!” the crowd replied.

Among the speakers at the conference was Kelley Anaas, who said she has been a registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern for 14 years and that this is her fourth time going on strike.

“Hospital executives want to talk like we rushed into this decision to strike - that has been their narrative all week long. We've been bargaining for six months, and the turnover, moral injury and burnout rates have been years in the making. We did not rush into this and we do not take this lightly,” Anaas said.

“There are plenty of licensed nurses in the state of Minnesota to fill the vacant positions in Minnesota hospitals, but they are not going to come back until conditions improve.”

Angela Bechetti, who is a nurse and part of the MNA negotiating team, said there are no negotiation sessions scheduled during or after the strike.

“We had negotiations set with the hospitals. Allina, we had one set, and they canceled on us. So there's none set at this time,” Bechetti said.

Labor expert: Labor unrest growing in health care

Rebecca Givan is an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. She told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer that labor unrest is growing in the health care industry, and that hospitals' response to COVID is part of the equation — in particular, how health care providers brought in a surge of high-cost temporary staff.

“When hospitals showed that they could find the money to pay agency nurses, they sort of tipped their hand or tipped their budget to the long-term staff nurses about what they might actually be able to afford to pay,” Givan said.

That helped disrupt the traditional career model for many nurses and workplaces.

“Nurses would like pay not just to keep up with inflation but be at a sufficient level to stabilize staffing, so there's not constant turnover, there's not constantly nurses moving to agency and contract positions,” she said.