About 15,000 Minnesota nurses are planning their second strike, and this one would be longer

Nurses are planning to walkout beginning Dec. 11, and most plan to be on strike for about three weeks. Hospitals, packed with patients with RSV and other illnesses, say the strike comes at a particularly difficult time.

About 15,000 nurses in Minnesota say they are going on strike for a second time this year, and the next walkout is slated to be for a longer period.

After a three-day strike in September, the Minnesota Nurses Association is planning a second strike that will last 20 days. Nurses plan to walk out at 16 hospitals across Minnesota. The association touted the September strike as the largest private sector nurses’ strike in U.S. history.

The second walkout is slated to begin Sunday, Dec. 11 and continue at most of the hospitals through Dec. 31. Nurses at two hospitals -  St. Luke’s in Duluth and at Lake View in Two Harbors - have chosen to strike without setting an end date, the association said. The nurses have been working without contracts for months.

The nurses’ union said health systems haven’t addressed demands to improve compensation and nursing conditions at the hospitals. Conversely, hospitals have said nurses in Minnesota receive competitive pay, and some hospital officials said they are alarmed that nurses are walking out at a time when hospitals are packed with patients with RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

Mary C. Turner, a registered nurse at North Memorial Hospital and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said the hospitals aren’t addressing issues that have made nurses so stressed and prompted some to leave the profession.

“We never wanted to get to this point,” Turner said at a news conference last week. “When we came back from our last strike in September, we hoped our hospital executives would hear us about the urgency of the crisis in our hospitals. But since then, things have gotten worse, and not better.”

In recent negotiations, Turner has brought up incidents with nurses that have been hurt in hospitals. Nurses and emergency physicians have said they’ve dealt with more violence in hospitals.

“Workplace violence is unacceptable, and a lot of that can be cured if we have proper staffing,” Turner said. She added that insufficient staffing has had some nurses working 16-hour shifts.

Hospitals: Strike threatens patients’ health

The hospitals say the timing of another strike couldn’t be worse, as facilities are filled with patients with respiratory viruses. Some said a walkout will endanger patients and could lead to health systems transferring patients to other states.

Children’s Minnesota operates two hospitals that are slated to be affected by the planned strike: Children’s Minneapolis and Children’s St. Paul.

“We are deeply alarmed about the timing of this decision,” Children’s Minnesota said in a statement. “We are experiencing a historic respiratory surge, which includes RSV and flu. Sick kids are coming into our hospitals and clinics in massive numbers. This is leading to full hospitals and intensive care units. We have long wait times in our emergency departments and clinics.”

Children’s Minnesota said nurses would be going on strike “at a time when our patients are at their most vulnerable."

"If a strike were to take place, some critical units at Children’s Minnesota will have to close due to the staffing shortage," Children's Minnesota said. "This includes our inpatient mental health unit. Dozens of patients in our ICUs would possibly be transferred to another state, separated from their families over the holidays. A strike at this time would risk the health of our patients.”

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group, which represents four health organizations affected by the planned strike, said it has offered raises of more than 10 percent and has also agreed to revised workplace safety measures. Twin Cities said the nurses are seeking a raise of 22%-28% and said the increase is “simply unaffordable.”

Allina Health said it has asked for an independent mediator to resolve the dispute but said the union has not agreed to that request.

“We are deeply disappointed by Minnesota Nurse’s Association’s choice to issue a strike notice when our community is experiencing a triple threat of illnesses – influenza, RSV and COVID - and before they have exhausted all available options to reach agreement,” Allina said in a statement.

“Providing the necessary care for our community during this surge of seasonal illness, in addition to the many other health care needs of our patients, has put unprecedented stress on Minnesota’s health care system. To be clear, the union is deciding to withdraw critical health care resources at a time when the community’s healthcare needs are high and at the risk of those who are depending on us for care.”

Nurses want better pay, safe staffing

The Minnesota Nurses Association said it has been negotiating in good faith, but leaders of the hospitals have not followed suit.

The nurses’ association said hospitals have engaged in unfair labor practices and have “colluded” to suppress the compensation for nurses.

Trisha Ochsner, a registered nurse at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis, spoke at a press conference last week when nurses announced their plans for another strike. She said the hospital is at capacity and “we have reached our limits.”

“The staffing crisis is dire, as we have been sharing for months,” she said. “There’s no end in sight, and things have only become worse.”

“We do not want to have to take this step,” she added. “We want to settle a fair contract at the negotiation table, but the future of the nursing profession matters. ”

Nurses also point out that most of the CEOs of the hospitals are paid $1 million or more annually and earn anywhere from 10 to 40 times as much as the pay of the average registered nurses.

Chris Rubesch, a registered nurse at Essentia in Duluth and first vice president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said nurses are ready to fight and win a better contract.

“At the same time hospital CEOs tell nurses and patients there is no money to retain staff and prioritize care, executives are taking million-dollar raises and pursuing corporate expansions that put community access to affordable care at risk,” Rubesch said in a statement. “Nurses and patients need safe staffing and quality care in our hospitals, not more corporate healthcare policies.”

The hospitals involved

These are the hospitals that would be affected by the strike;

Allina Health

Abbott Northwestern, Minneapolis

Mercy, Coon Rapids

United, St. Paul

Unity, Fridley

Children’s Minnesota

Children’s Minneapolis

Children’s St. Paul

Essentia Health

St. Mary’s Duluth

St. Mary’s Superior

North Memorial

HealthPartners

HealthPartners Methodist Hospital

M Health Fairview

Riverside, Minneapolis

Southdale, Edina

St. Joseph's, St. Paul

St. John's, Maplewood

North Memorial

North Memorial, Robbinsdale

St. Luke’s

St. Luke’s Duluth

Lake View Two Harbors