Minnesota nurses set Nov. 30 vote to authorize a new strike

Nurses picket 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 three-day strike. Union leaders on Thursday said they'll seek a new strike authorization from their 15,000 members.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated at 3:20 p.m.

Two months after calling a three-day walkout, leaders of the Minnesota Nurses Association said Thursday the union will hold a new strike authorization vote on Nov. 30 amid slow-moving contract talks with the state’s major hospital systems.

If approved, it would give negotiators for the 15,000-member union the power to call a strike after giving a 10-day notice to hospital employers.

Union leaders have been in contract negotiations since March and working without a contract since June. Since their three-day strike in September, members have been back at the bargaining table with hospitals, but said little progress has been made since.

Union president Mary Turner said Thursday her negotiators had high hopes for a deal following the September walkout but that since then the hospitals have made no firm commitments around the nurses’ proposals.

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The September strike involved 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports regions. The hospitals included Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Children’s Minnesota and Essentia’s St. Mary’s facilities in Duluth and Superior, Wis.

Nurses aimed for higher wages and other provisions to attract and retain more nurses in short-staffed hospitals. They also sought better measures to protect their safety on the job.

Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner said Thursday negotiators at North Memorial Health Hospital where she is an ICU nurse have met 27 times since March, several of those meetings after the strike. She said management is to blame for lack of contract agreements.

"They have failed us, they have failed the community, they have failed to solve the crisis conditions in our hospitals and they have failed to settle a fair contract with us," Turner told members of the media at a morning press conference.

Hospitals said at the time they were trying to meet nurses’ demands by increasing wages somewhat and hiring more nurses. They relied on traveling nurses over the three days of the fall strike.

Essentia said in a statement that “a strike does not bring us closer to an agreement. Our history of years of successful negotiations shows us that the best solutions are found through productive dialogue at the bargaining table. We remain committed to that effort and expect the MNA to explore with us innovative solutions that work for our nurses and the communities that we serve.”

Referring to an “intensifying surge of illness related to RSV and influenza,” Allina Health said in its statement the nurses were "choosing to be opportunistic at a time of vulnerability for our community by disrupting care."

But Laura Myers, a pediatric nurse at Children's Minnesota in St. Paul, said the spike in RSV and flu was “exactly why we are fighting. We are fighting because working conditions in our organization are getting worse by the day.”

The renewed call for a possible strike comes as two major health systems, including one involved in negotiations, are pursuing a merger. Minnesota-based Fairview Health Services and Sanford Health, headquartered in South Dakota, said Tuesday they are talking about a combined company with Sanford’s CEO in charge.

Nurses union officials released a statement shortly after saying they were against the merger plan because it would “put corporate expansion ahead of patient care.”

As they announced the Nov. 30 vote, leaders with the nurses union said Thursday that patients have experienced long wait times because of a lack of staff and that nurses are “burning out” as they pick up extra shifts to meet patient needs.

During the September strike, Twin Cities hospitals reported no problems during the strike beyond having to postpone some non-emergency procedures.