Nearly 5,000 Nurses At Five Minnesota Hospitals Started Their Weeklong Strike

After longtime contract disputes, almost 4,800 nurses from five Twin Cities’ Allina Hospitals terminated their shifts early Sunday morning, leaving their patients in the care of transitional recruits from all over the nation to begin a seven-day strike. According to ABC News, the nurses, who are part of the Minnesota Nurses Association, began the Allina Health walkout to express dissatisfaction with Allina’s decision to switch union nurses to health insurance plans with low monthly premiums, but higher out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses.

Union president, Mary Turner, announced nurses from Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, Mercy in Coon Rapids, United in St. Paul, Unity in Fridley, and the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, would strike with peaceful demonstrations for 12 hours each day outside of the health care facilities. Today, 1,500 protested, including 600 picketers, at Abbott Northwestern.

The nurses most recent health care contracts expired on May 31, but no discussions were scheduled before Allina’s proposed switch to low premium, high out-of-pocket plans. Nurses chose to reject the plan and authorized a strike instead. They contend Allina is placing the majority of health care expenses on them; but Allina says the move encourages “more frugal use of health care” and cuts company costs by $10 million a year. It is the same plan used by the company’s other 30,000 employees.

Unfortunately, the nurses issues with Allina do not stop with expensive health insurance. The union nurses also called the company out for poor staffing ratios and workplace safety, in addition to low pay increases. The company currently offers a 2 percent increase each year; the union is pushing for at least 3 percent.

During a news briefing Sunday afternoon, Allina Health’s President and CEO, Dr. Penny Wheeler, said a mere 144 union nurses chose to stay on board and work in spite of the strike. Even still, Wheeler remains hopeful that an agreement can be made. Describing Allina as “eager to get back to the negotiating table with the union,” she went on to declare high hopes.

“We believe we can solve these issues through a constructive dialogue.”

Allina Calls for Business as Usual Despite Nurse Strike

Although the union nurses will be out, Allina hopes to keep business going as usual for patients needing care using replacement nurses. So far, things have worked well and the volume of people needing care has remained consistent with past years.

A spokesman for Allina, David Kanihan, offered a brief statement Sunday, assuring the public that, “all Allina Health hospitals are open and caring for patients during the strike.”

When Nurses Strike, Everyone Sacrifices

In a report by local paper, the Star Tribune, nurses discussed their willingness to make sacrifices for better plans. Abbott nurse Judy Pontius, a participant in the 1984 and 2010 strikes, is currently receiving radiation treatments for breast cancer, but refuses to accept the company’s new plans with high deductibles.

United nurse Jo Copas also expressed a willingness to sacrifice her finances for a week to protect health care, plus other benefits.

“It’s really not about just the insurance. It’s about Allina trying to chip away at our benefits. If they can get this done, then they’ll go toward other things.”

Patients also weighed in on the controversial topic, including 27-year-old Joe Skubic. Skubic offered his support and sympathy at Abbott when he walked to stand with the nurses who have been treating his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“They know you by name. They know little things about you.”

At United, 42-year-old Gina Rozumny sat on a bench, watching the picket line filled with nurses she’s bonded with over the last few weeks.

“They were all getting familiar with me. Now, it’s like being on a new floor.”

Nurses employed by other Twin Cities hospitals finalized agreements for their new contracts months ago.

[Image by Jerry Holt/Twitter]

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