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Thousands of Minnesota nurses vote to go on strike

The Minnesota Nurses Association gave hospitals a 10-day notice before 15,000 nurses walk off the job.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Over 15,000 nurses in Minnesota's two largest metro areas voted to strike late Monday, with union leaders and hospital administration at seven of the state’s largest health care systems at a deadlock over staffing levels and wages. 

Nurses in the Twin Cities metro and in the Twin Ports area – which is centered around the Lake Superior ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin – authorized negotiators with the Minnesota Nurses Association to call a strike following a 10-day notice to employers. Such a strike would be one of the largest nurses’ strikes in U.S. history, according to the MNA. 

MNA leaders say the hospitals have prioritized profits and executive pay over patient well-being by failing to provide competitive pay and maintain adequate staffing levels. They have pushed for a pay increase of about 30% along with better sick leave and education reimbursement benefits plus better benefits for night shift work. 

“We are losing nurses faster than we can train them,” MNA board member Lynetta Muehlhauser said at a press conference announcing the strike vote Friday. “We have nurses that could be working at the bedside for another 10, 15 years, and are walking away because they can no longer deal with what they’re dealing with.” 

The union has also stressed sharp pay increases dealt out to hospital CEOs over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, with some receiving as much as a 37% pay increase between 2019 and 2020. 

On the hospitals’ side, negotiators have focused on wages, with some offering a 10% increase over the next three years, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A statement from the Twin Cities Hospital Group, which represents four of the five metro-area hospital systems facing nurse walkouts, said that the union’s proposed increases would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and “are not economically feasible or responsible to our community members who would ultimately pay the price.” 

The hospital group also argued that the union’s staffing proposals “would make managing care volumes at individual hospitals harder to staff according to changing patient care needs,” and stressed the need for “flexibility and teamwork across functions.” 

Members of the MNA voted throughout the day Monday and announced the vote result late that night. In a press conference early Tuesday morning, MNA President Mary Turner said that health care executives had secured higher profits and salary hikes to top brass by providing worse care to patients. 

“These problems existed before the pandemic, and today it’s only getting worse,” Turner said. “Yesterday, we sent a clear message to these executives: Enough is enough. It is time to put patient care at the bedside before the bottom line. If our CEOs won’t do it, we will.” 

Turner, a nurse at Minneapolis’ North Memorial Hospital, said that while “as a rule, we don’t give out numbers,” strike support had been “overwhelming, at all hospitals, which is what we were hoping for.” 

She said she hoped the vote would convince hospitals to come to the bargaining table prepared to negotiate.

“We are about to have three level-one traumas across the state out of commission. And I don’t care how much they say ‘our hospitals will keep running just fine without all those nurses,'" she said.

Turner promised to keep bargaining “until the wee hours” of the nurses’ 10-day notice. 

Strike precursors have been festering for much of the summer. Contracts for Twin Cities MNA members expired in May, and Twin Ports nurses’ expired in June. Twin Cities nurses held a one-day informational strike on June 1, and took a vote of no confidence in hospital management on Aug. 2. 

Failing any coups at the negotiation table, nurses will go on strike Aug. 25. 

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