Updated: 5:30 p.m.
Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association have set a strike date of Dec. 11 if a long-running stalemate in contract talks isn't resolved. Union nurses walked out for three days in September. This time, they say most nurses will be out three weeks.
The strike would affect more than a dozen hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas, and would run from 7 a.m. Dec. 11 to 7 a.m. Dec. 31 at most of the facilities. Nurses voted “overwhelmingly” on Wednesday to authorize the strike, the union said in a statement.
Nurses with the St. Luke's system in Duluth and Two Harbors, Minn., have chosen to strike with no end date set, the union said.
Gov. Tim Walz said his administration is monitoring the situation.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
“I’m still incredibly hopeful that we can reach a deal here that provides the resources to the nurses that they need and the finances that work for the hospitals,” he told reporters during a child care funding event Thursday morning in St. Paul.
The vote came just over two months after nurses with the 15,000-member union walked out in a historic three-day strike that affected more than a dozen hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports. Since then, health care providers across Minnesota and the country have been dealing with an uptick of respiratory illnesses, including RSV and influenza.
“We never wanted to get to this point,” said MNA President Mary Turner. “When we came back from our last strike in September, we hoped our hospital executives would hear us about the urgency of the crisis in our hospitals. But since then, things have gotten worse and not better.”
Turner said that since September, nurses have come down on their wage demands — from around 30 percent increases to 20 percent — and adjusted their staffing requests.
Rather than requiring staffing changes on a floor to be approved by 51 percent of nurses working there, hospitals would instead use tracked quality measures — including falls and other injuries. If they collectively reach 50 percent, the proposal calls for a staffing assessment and, potentially, an increase of a certain number of nurses.
Hospitals countered that they are struggling to care for especially young patients who are flooding into some facilities.
Children’s Minnesota operates two hospitals that would be affected by a strike.
Patsy Stinchfield is president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a staff member at Children’s. At a news conference Thursday with hospital leaders, Stinchfield said RSV and influenza are at “unprecedented” levels. She said RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization and death in children under 5.
“I do have significant concerns if we don’t have all the nurses that we need to take care of all the patients that we have,” Stinchfield said. “I have significant concerns that we won’t be safe and that we won’t be ready.”
Children’s Minnesota president and CEO Dr. Marc Gorelick said the system is preparing to bring in nurses from staffing agencies.
“We’ve already made financial commitments. The financial impact of this strike across the system began this morning, as soon as we got notice. So we and all the other health systems that are impacted are already starting to spend money on replacement nurses.”
Gorelick said the 320 replacements Children’s plans to hire will only cover about a third of the hospitals’ existing staffing. That means the system will likely have defer some procedures, shut down its mental health and critical care units, and move patients to other facilities.
The Allina Health hospital system on Thursday said it was disappointed by the developments and claimed that union leadership "continues to focus on disruption at the expense of spending meaningful time at the bargaining table."
In a statement, Allina said it has “plans in place to continue caring for our community with as few disruptions to care as possible” and that another negotiating session was set for Friday.
The Twin Cities Hospital Group, which represents Children’s, Fairview, North Memorial Health and Methodist, said in a statement it was “shocked and deeply disappointed” with the strike announcement, but that it plans to negotiate “in good faith” with the nurses. The group also said hospitals “will be open during this 10-day period although your care providers may need to reschedule non-critical care procedures. Our hospital leadership have robust contingency plans in place and will make adjustments as necessary to ensure continuity of care.”
Thursday’s vote affects the same hospitals as the previous strike, as well as an additional one — St. Luke’s Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors. Earlier this week, union officials had said another hospital, Essentia Moose Lake, would also participate in the strike vote, but negotiators reached a tentative agreement this week.
Essentia, which faces a potential December strike at its St. Mary’s hospitals in Duluth and Superior, Wis., said in a statement Thursday afternoon that “another strike isn’t in anyone’s best interest” and “an agreement that benefits our nurses and ensures the sustainability of high-quality care in the communities we are privileged to serve is within reach.”
Essentia said its current proposal would have a new hospital nurse in the Twin Ports making $77,000 annually to start and earning more than $100,000 by year three.
Officials from other health care systems in the past advocated for an independent, third-party mediator to be included in negotiations. At a media event before the vote, Turner said that the union has authorized involving a mediator in the process, but is leaving the decision up to individual bargaining teams.
“If they want a mediator, they can use a mediator,” she said. “So we're not dead-set against it anymore, but we have left it up to the local.”
In a statement before the vote, officials with St. Luke’s said they “look forward to our negotiating session tomorrow. While MNA has agreed to allow a mediator to observe, we remain hopeful that MNA will allow the mediator to participate in the process. We believe having a mediator is the next best step toward reaching an agreement and avoiding a strike. We know our nurses want to be at the bedside doing what they do best: caring for patients.”
Some bargaining sessions are planned at hospitals this week. The union said the following hospitals and systems would be affected by a possible strike:
M Health Fairview system
St. Joseph's, St. Paul
St. John's, Maplewood
St. Mary's Duluth
St. Mary's Superior, Wis.
Abbott Northwestern, Minneapolis
Mercy, Coon Rapids
United, St. Paul
Children’s Minnesota, Twin Cities
Children's St. Paul
St. Luke's, Duluth
St. Luke’s Lake View, Two Harbors
North Memorial, Robbinsdale
HealthPartners, Methodist Hospital, St. Louis Park
MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.