Minnesota Nurses Strike: Thousands Of Nurses Reject Contract Offer By Allina Health

A Minnesota nurses strike is anticipated because of a dispute over health care benefits.

CBS Minnesota reports that thousands of nurses in the Twin Cities are threatening to go on strike over a contract dispute with insurance provider Allina Health.

The Minnesota Nurses Association represents about 5,000 nurses, and it revealed on Monday that the majority of its members voted to reject the latest contract offer.

Union members work at hospitals work throughout the Twin Cities areas at facilities like the United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern, the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, and Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Nurses rejected the contract offer because it directs too much of the company’s health care costs to the nurses.

At least one nurse said the contract involves a high-deductible plan with higher out-of-pocket maximums. This means nurses would be required to pay between $4,000 and $12,000 to care for their families and $1,000 on pharmacy bills.

The Minnesota nurses began negotiating with Allina in February, and their contract expired on May 31.

According to the report, Allina Health claimed they offered an “across the board wage increase, provisions that would significantly expand the union’s voice in workplace safety issues and a phased, multi-year transition to the same health insurance plans that more than 30,000 other Allina Health employees and their families already use.”

Allina asserts that transferring the nurses to its corporate health plan would cut its health costs by $10 million a year.

Over 66 percent of the Minnesota nurses at all four hospitals voted Monday to reject the contract and authorize the negotiating committee to call a strike.

As it stands, the union must give Allina Health 10 days notice before going on strike. The insurance company believes a nurses strike can be avoided through effective negotiations.

As MPR News reports, nurses consider their union health plan a significant part of their compensation. Under the latest contract offer, they feel they’re getting very little in return.

The news source spoke with critical care nurse, Angelina Becchetti, an Allina nurse for 10 years and one of the union negotiators.

“What Allina is offering to the nurses is high-deductible plans and higher out-of-pocket maximums,” she said.

Becchetti said Allina’s corporate plans could cost nurses thousands of dollars more a year.

“When I had my kid, I paid a co-pay. Now if I were to go on the Allina core plan I would pay $12,000 just to have a child,” she said.

Allina says much of the savings in health care costs would result from the higher cost-sharing the union opposes. The company insists cost-sharing “encourages thriftier choices, such as going to an urgent care when a much more expensive emergency room visit would be overkill.”

Allina spokesperson David Kanihan said the change is a “must-have.”

“We are committed to transitioning them to our corporate health plan,” Kanihan said.

Allina says the union is scaring nurses about the corporate health plans.

The company admits it’s “technically possible to reach that $12,000 out-of-pocket maximum, but only for the 1 percent of current employees who choose their highest deductible option,” according to the report. Allina adds that a pregnancy scenario would unlikely be that expensive.

Kanihan said the average cost to have a baby on its most popular plan is about $1,000.

“It’s a good solid health plan,” he said. “It covers over 30,000 other employees and their dependents.”

A Minnesota nurses strike also occurred in 2010 when over 12,000 nurses from 14 hospitals across the metro area walked out for one day.

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]