With strike over, Minnesota nurses hope it helped contract negotiations

People holding picket signs walk
Nurses begin picketing outside Children’s Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 9:30 a.m.

The three-day strike involving about 15,000 Minnesota nurses ended Thursday morning.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association at 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports walked off the job Monday over contract negotiations. Next they will see if the walkout will help at the bargaining table.

On the last full day of the strike Wednesday, nurses from Children's Minnesota and Abbott Northwestern hospitals in Minneapolis gathered at nearby Stewart Park, as they had each day, to grab their picket signs and head out to the line.

Nurses walked out over several issues including wage increases, staffing and retention, and safety.

Union members limited the strike to just three days, so nurses expect to return to their jobs Thursday but it's still unclear how the strike will impact negotiations going forward.

Several negotiation sessions were canceled during the strike. Some hospital officials said that was so they could ensure bargaining staff could focus on patient care during the strike.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Allina said the nurses would return to work at 6:30 p.m. at United Hospital in St. Paul and at 7 a.m. at Abbott Northwestern and Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and Fridley.

“Now, we look forward to returning to the bargaining table. We are scheduling a bargaining session next week to continue working with the Minnesota Nurses Association on a contract agreement that recognizes both the contributions of our nurses and our commitment to our patients, and communities,” according to Allina’s statement.

Essentia Health said in a statement the system welcomes “all our nurses back” Thursday morning at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth and St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior.

Asked about what happens with traveling nurses who had been brought in to replace striking nurses, Aimee Jordan, media relations manager at M Health Fairview said Wednesday in a text message, "Union-represented nurses will return to work for their scheduled shifts when the strike ends. Travelers are case by case depending on the contracts they negotiated with their agencies."

In Duluth, St. Luke’s cited shortages in health care and that nurses may choose to leave hospital employers for “lucrative travel assignments,” among other options. Without disclosing how many nurses St. Luke’s has lost, a statement said that since the beginning of 2021, “we have hired 163 MNA RNs and continue to hire more.”

The statement is explicit that there will not be a lockout.

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group said in a statement Thursday morning that “nurses will begin returning to work as needed as shifts come on.” The group said that traveling nurses would be paid for five full days of work but “we believe our patients are most comfortable with nurses they have come to know and love.”

The statement said the negotiating team would return to the bargaining table “sometime next week.”

At the last press conference of the strike outside M Health Fairview Southdale hospital Wednesday afternoon, Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner said the nurses are inspiring others.

“We are the ones that are showing all the workers, all across America, how it is to fight and what it means to stand up for your contracts but not only that — stand up for the working people of America,” she said.

Still, Turner said she wasn't sure if the action this week has moved the needle on contract negotiations.

“We could settle tomorrow. We could take the 11 and a half or 12 percent and no guaranteed language,” Turner said to picketers. “But are all of you willing to go back to the conditions that you've been in?” The group yelled back, “No!”