Allina and striking nurses trade jabs

Day two of nurses' strike against Allina Health

MINNEAPOLIS -- Day two of a strike by union nurses against Allina Health System brought no signs of progress.

On Tuesday the two sides engaged in dueling press conference, both blaming the other for the failure to reach agreement on new terms.

"Nurses are committed, we’re here to get a fair contract," said Angela Becchetti, an Abbott Northwestern nurse who serves on Minnesota Nurses Association negotiating team.

"Allina could end this strike and bring experienced nurse back to the bedside."

The union said 2,500 members had taken part in picketing during the first two days of the strike at Abbott and four other hospitals in the Allina system.

Allina said 385 union nurses had already called their supervisors to say the plan to cross the picket lines and join a reported 1,500 replacement nurses who are staffing the hospitals on temporary contracts.

"Some of them are working now," David Kanihan, Allina's communications director, explained. "Some of them may not have had a shift just yet, but they indicated they will work when their shift comes.

Kanihan said June's strike, which lasted seven days and involved fewer replacement nurses, cost Allina $20 million, mainly in travel costs.

"When the union chooses to take its nurses off the job we have a commitment to the communities we serve, and we have to fulfill that commitment," Kanihan remarked. "And we are going to do that for a long as it takes."

He said the replacements have been doing well thus far, and all essential hospital services are still available.

"They’re also working side by side with all the regular caregivers – the physicians, the therapists, the pharmacists -- all those other folks who make up these care teams."

Mathew Keller, a registered nurse and attorney who works for the union, criticized Allina for investing heavily in a medical data analytics company known as Health Catalyst.

"These are not living laboratories in here," Keller said, pointing at the Abbott Northwestern complex.

"These are patients! And the nurses need to care for them! And until Allina understands that they will be out here waiting for Allina to answer their offer." 

Union leaders say the nurses still had an offer on the table when talks broke off Saturday morning after a marathon 22-hour bargaining session at a hotel in Bloomington. The most difficult sticking point throughout the contract dispute has been Allina's attempt to move the nurses off more traditional health insurance into the coverage other Allina employees use.

"We put forth a proposal that addressed workplace safety, improvements to staffing and a monetary safety net for those nurses who would potentially face financial ruin once they entered into the high deductible Allina plans," Mary Turner, the MNA president, told reporters.

"But at 5:15 a.m. on Saturday Allina vacated the area. They just left without giving our nurses an answer."

A union press release said Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina's president and CEO, was at the Health Catalyst conference in Utah along with Dr. Ben Bache-Wiig, the Abbott NW president. But Bache-Wigg was present at the Allina press conference Tuesday, and Kanihan said Wheeler hadn't left the Twin Cities.Unlike June's strike the current one is open-ended.

"This dispute has nothing to do with Health Catalyst," Kanihan said.

(© 2016 KARE)


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