Thousands of nurses in Minnesota launched a three-day strike Monday over issues of pay and what they say is understaffing that has been worsened by the strains of the coronavirus pandemic.
The labor action includes 15,000 nurses and seven health care systems in the Minneapolis and Duluth areas. Those health care systems said they have recruited temporary nurses and are expected to maintain most services.
The nurses said they’ve been trying to negotiate higher wages under a new contract since March, but hospital executives have called their demands too expensive. Nurses were seeking more than 30% increases in compensation by the end of the three-year contract.
“It just isn’t a realistic number,” Paul Omodt, a spokesman for several of the Minneapolis-area hospitals, said last month.
The Minnesota Nurses Association said that unless benefits are substantially improved, the continued loss of nurses will leave hospitals vulnerable. Nurses said they’re striking because hospitals refuse to hire more staff, a decision that means patients must endure long stints in the waiting room instead of receiving the care they need.
“They need to see it as the crisis that it is,” union president Mary Turner said when nurses gave notice in August of their strike plans. “We’ve said over and over that this isn’t something we do lightly, but we’re not going to just sit back and do nothing. We can’t.”
Some local lawmakers expressed their support for the nurses, with Rep. Jamie Long tweeting that they “deserve to be safe and respected on the job!”
Union officials said 15 hospitals would be affected by the strike, including those operated by Allina Health, M Health Fairview, Children’s Hospital, North Memorial and HealthPartners. In Duluth, it’s Essentia and St Luke’s. Hospital systems have offered nurses a 10% to 12% pay increase.
Minnesota nurses had been working under a previous two-year contract that was approved in 2021. That agreement expired months ago, the group said, adding that nurses in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been working without a deal since May 31 and nurses around Duluth have been working without a contract since June 30.
Busing in temps
Paul Omodt, a spokesperson for Twin Cities Hospital group, told CBS Minnesota that thousands of nurses from around the country will work during the strike to keep the hospitals open and running as close to normal as possible. Bus loads of traveling nurses arrived in Minnesota early Monday morning, just hours before the strike commenced.
When Minnesota nurses went on a one-day strike in 2010, hospitals hired 2,800 replacement nurses, called in extra non-union staff and reduced patient levels. Some hospitals rescheduled elective surgeries.
The strike comes when nurses nationwide already feel burned out — a sentiment echoed by hundreds of other nurses. Hospital executives want the public to believe there’s a nursing shortage, but in actuality, there’s a shortage of nurses willing to work under grueling conditions, the nurses said.