Minnesota nurses strike averted as hospitals, union reach deals

Minnesota Children's Hospital - St. Paul's exterior view
Children's Minnesota in St. Paul's exterior view on Nov. 17. Several Minnesota health systems are reporting tentative contract agreements with their union nurses Tuesday.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Updated: 12:30 p.m.

The Minnesota Nurses Association and more than a dozen hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports reported tentative agreements on new three-year labor contracts Tuesday, averting a walkout by thousands of nurses that was scheduled to start in just days.

The union said it has reached tentative deals with Children’s Minnesota, North Memorial, Allina Health, M Health Fairview and HealthPartners in the Twin Cities, as well as Essentia Health and St. Luke’s in Duluth. It’s recommending that its members vote to ratify the agreements, and has called off the strike that was scheduled to start Sunday.

The union said the new contracts include pay raises of 18 percent over three years for Twin Cities nurses, and 17 percent for nurses in the Twin Ports.

It also said the agreements contain “unprecedented language” giving nurses a say in staffing issues — something Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and a nurse at North Memorial, said was the “most important part.”

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That includes language that would “prevent reductions in staffing levels without consensus between nurses and management; help protect nurses from discipline when they raise concerns about unsafe assignments; and to trigger reviews of staffing levels by nurses and management in response to key measures of patient and nurse wellbeing and outcomes,” the union reported.

Turner said nurses now have a “stronger voice” and “the ability to get into the door to talk to our upper nurse management leaders. And that’s huge.”

She said she expects nurses will vote on the deal by the end of this week or early next week.

“Our nurses, I’m gonna say, categorically, always follow our recommendations. So I don’t see that being a problem,” Turner said.

“I think nurses are relieved that we are not going to be walking out in December, before the holidays,” she said. “Nobody really wanted this. But this is what we needed to do to get the action that we needed for our patients and our profession.”

Among the health systems responding to the agreements, Allina Health said their settlement “reflects the priorities of both parties and is fair and equitable to our employees, patients and communities. We are thankful to be able to return our full attention to caring for the community at this time of increased illness and demand.”

The potential strike had come at a time when hospitals are seeing surges in flu and RSV, a common respiratory illness that is particularly dangerous for children and older adults.

Essentia Health issued a statement thanks “all our colleagues for the teamwork demonstrated as we have been preparing for a potential work stoppage. We appreciate the efforts of the negotiating teams to reach a resolution, allowing us all to continue focusing on providing high-quality patient care to the communities we are privileged to serve.”

Another hospital that had been part of the potential work stoppage set for Sunday — St. Luke’s Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors — is not part of the agreements announced Tuesday, as talks with its union nurses continue.

In a statement, St. Luke’s said it has “multiple bargaining sessions scheduled in December, with the next session set for Friday."