Minnesota hospitals, nurses avoid strike: What’s in the deal

The health systems and the Minnesota Nurses Association said they have a tentative agreement. Here’s a look at the key components of the deal.

Several Minnesota health systems announced Tuesday that they had reached a tentative deal with the Minnesota Nurses Association, averting a planned strike that was slated to begin Sunday.

About 15,000 nurses had been slated to walk out for about three weeks, while nurses at two hospitals hadn’t set an end date for the walkout. It would have been the second strike in the past few months. Nurses walked out on a three-day strike in September, and the association touted it as the largest nurses’ strike in the private sector in U.S. history.

Now, the hospitals and nurses are on the cusp of a new, three-year pact after working without a contract for months. The nurses’ association said the planned strike has been rescinded as nurses get ready to vote on the agreements.

The association said the wage increases are the largest in more than two decades. The union also said the deal gives nurses a greater voice in staffing levels, which nurses called a critical issue.

Mary C. Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and a registered nurse at North Memorial Hospital, called the tentative agreement “a historic win for nurses and patients at the bedside.”

“For years, hospital executives have been pushing nurses out of the profession by under-staffing our units and under-valuing our nurses,” Turner said. “This tentative agreement will help to keep nurses at the bedside, where we will keep fighting to oppose the corporate healthcare policies which threaten our hospital systems and the care our patients deserve.”

The union membership still must ratify the agreements, and the Minnesota Nurses Association is recommending that they sign off on the deal.

The nurses’ union reached deals with Allina Health, Essentia Health, St. Luke’s, and The Twin Cities Hospital Group, which includes Children’s Minnesota, Fairview Health, North Memorial Health and Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.

Nurses have now brokered agreements with 15 of the 16 hospitals in the contract dispute. Talks between the MNA and St. Luke's Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors are still ongoing, but another negotiation session is slated to take place Friday.

Nurses are expected to vote on the agreements in the coming days. Essentia said in a release the ratification vote is expected by Dec. 12.

Details of the deal

The deals are fairly similar with the different hospitals and health systems, with some slight differences.

Nurses at the hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the Twin Cities, would get an 18-percent raise over a three-year span. The agreement calls for a 7-percent raise in the first year, a 6-percent increase in the second year, and a 5-percent raise in the third year.

Nurses at the hospitals in the Duluth or Twin Ports region would see a 17% increase over the three-year agreement. They would get a 7-percent raise in the first year, a 6-percent bump in the second year, and a 4-percent boost in the third year.

The deal also offers increases in raises for preceptors - those who help train new nurses - and charge nurses, who coordinate the work of other nurses. The association said those provisions would help the health systems retain nurses at a time when many nurses are leaving hospitals.

The nurses’ association also said the provisions to give nurses more influence in staffing levels was crucial to the deal.

The union said the provisions vary in the different agreements but include language calling for consent between nurses and management before reducing staffing levels, and protections to ensure nurses aren’t punished for raising concerns about assignments. The agreement would also call for reviews of staffing levels tied to patient and nurse well-being, the association said.

Chris Rubesch, a registered nurse at Essentia in Duluth and first vice president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said the deal reflects nine months of pushing for a better contract.

“This tentative agreement is a critical step to address the chronic short-staffing and other corporate healthcare policies hurting patients and nurses at the bedside,” Rubesch said in a statement. “With new staffing language and fair wage increases, nurses are empowered to continue the fight to protect care in our communities.”

Reaction from hospitals

After the nurses announced intentions of a second, longer strike this month, hospitals warned that a walkout would jeopardize patient care and possibly lead to some patients being transferred out of state.

Allina Health, which represents four of the hospitals, said in a statement, “Allina Health is pleased with the settlement, which reflects the priorities of both parties and is fair and equitable to our employees, patients and communities. We are thankful to be able to return our full attention to caring for the community at this time of increased illness and demand.”

Essentia Health, which operates two hospitals that would have been affected by the planned strike, said it was “pleased” with the new deal, saying, “This positive outcome is the result of hard work at the bargaining table.”

“We appreciate the efforts of the negotiating teams to reach a resolution, allowing us all to continue focusing on providing high-quality patient care to the communities we are privileged to serve,” Essentia said in the statement.

St. Luke's issued a statement Tuesday morning, saying, "We are pleased to announce that St. Luke’s and MNA reached a tentative contract agreement. MNA has withdrawn its strike notice and will bring the contract to nurses for ratification in the near future. We want to thank all who have worked so diligently at the table to reach a fair and equitable contract."

As for Lake View, the system said more bargaining sessions are scheduled this month, with the next one coming Friday.

"Lake View will continue our strong tradition of working collaboratively with the MNA to reach an agreement that is fair to all of our stakeholders, including our patients, community, and our entire Lake View team,” the system said.