On final day of strike, Minnesota nurses wonder what's next

Nurses picked outside Fairview Southdale Hospital
Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association picket outside of Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina on Sept. 14, the last day of a planned three-day strike.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

About 15,000 Minnesota nurses on Wednesday entered the third and final day of a strike affecting more than a dozen hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports.

The nurses' union and hospital management remain at odds over pay, staffing levels and whether nurses should have more say in staffing decisions.

Some Allina Health nurses at United Hospital in St. Paul will be going back to work at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Other striking nurses are planning to return to work starting at 7 a.m. Thursday.

There's no word on any additional bargaining sessions aimed at ending the months-long labor contract impasse.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

On Wednesday morning outside Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis, nurse Kelley Anaas’ voice was hoarse from chanting the past two days.

“People are feeling energized. We’re ready to kind of close this out. We had three days to send a message to the hospitals on what it’s gonna be like to work without us and we’re really feeling confident that that message has been received by them,” Anaas said.

Strike scheduled to end Thursday morning

In a statement Tuesday, St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth said it continues to function normally, and will welcome its nurses back at 7 a.m. Thursday. The hospital contends that many of the union’s scheduling proposals “would negatively impact staffing.”

Allina Health — which operates Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United, and Unity hospitals in the Twin Cities — said nurses at United will return to work starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, based on the union’s 10-day strike notice.

The two sides appear to have made little progress in contract talks, and some bargaining sessions were canceled during the strike. Even after walking off the job to express their frustration, many nurses say they will not accept a deal that doesn’t address their concerns about staffing and retention.

Anthony Brown, who said he is a nurse and member of the Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis negotiating team, was also outside the hospital for the final day of picketing. He said the hospitals “shut down talks on Saturday” and canceled a Tuesday meeting.

“It’s kind of in their court to tell us when they want to come back,” he said. “We’ve not heard much in the last three days.”

Hospitals said they canceled sessions so they could focus on patient care during the strike.

At least one nurse expressed apprehension about the impact of the strike.

“Did we shake them, being management? Because we feel shook,” nurse Trisha Ochsner said outside the hospitals. “Did it make a difference? I don’t know, we’ll find out. We’ll see how they act tomorrow when we show up.”

Nurses seek help with staffing, safety

The nurses’ message is a serious one: pay isn’t high enough to retain experienced nurses, pandemic burnout has exacerbated the staff shortage, and with too few professionals at the bedside, patients are in danger.

Jordan Hoffmann said he’s been a nurse at Children’s Minnesota for 19 years, “a long enough time to know that we’ve been sliding for a while — that the pandemic was the tipping point for accelerating what has been going on.”

Shiori Konda-Muhammad — a cardiac ICU nurse at North Memorial — said there’s another reason nurses are quitting: They don’t feel safe at work.

“A lot of nurses are getting assaulted, sometimes by patients or family, and we just don’t have any protection [that] the hospital is providing us to be able to safely work here. That’s a big reason the people are leaving," Konda-Muhammad said.

Hospitals report no problems during strike

The Minnesota Nurses Association has been in contract negotiations with 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities, Duluth, and Superior, Wis., for six months.

Because the union voted to authorize a strike nearly a month ago, hospitals had time to prepare. They brought in staff from traveling nursing companies. At some hospitals, the replacement workers boarded buses behind tarps so they couldn’t be seen.

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group represents many of the affected health care facilities. Spokesperson Paul Omodt said Tuesday there have not been any major problems.

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 on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

He said emergency room wait times have been normal, and that is also true for hospitals not involved with the strike, including Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

“Our replacement nurses have come in. They are trained, they are licensed, they’ve been working alongside our management nurses, who are qualified and trained nurses, and we are doing a good job of serving our patients,” Omodt said.

Omodt said hospitals have postponed some non-emergency procedures in order to focus on emergency care.

The state health department is also continuing to watch for complaints and problems that could affect patient safety during the final day of the strike.