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Hospitals call strike unlawful, nurses union responds

The Minnesota Nurses Association intends to strike for three days starting September 12 if no agreement is reached by then.

MINNEAPOLIS — The largest nurses strike ever is expected to start Sept. 12. 

But some Minnesota hospitals are now calling the potential strike "unlawful" and filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

The hospital executives say the Minnesota Nurses Association gave the required 10-day notice to strike, but that it didn't file a 30-day notice with the state's Bureau of Mediation Services. 

In a statement, the MNA writes, "After MNA filed its required notices, hospital executives are now demanding nurses file an additional 30-day notice with the state Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS), despite the fact that BMS does not have jurisdiction over private sector employers. This is why hospital management has never previously questioned MNA work stoppages using this manufactured barrier, including the three-day strike at Allina’s WestHealth facility in 2021, the 2016 strikes by MNA nurses at Allina Health facilities, or the 2010 strike by Twin Cities MNA nurses."

John Budd, a Professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, says this is an "unusual claim" made by the hospital systems. 

Budd writes, "Is the ability of BMS to intervene in public interest disputes enough to say that is has jurisdiction? I don't think this has been the practice in Minnesota previously, as noted by MNA, but maybe there's just enough language there to give the hospitals enough to at least try."

"I think they’re trying to sow seeds of doubt amongst our membership and make people maybe wonder if we’re going to have a job at the end of three days," says Registered Nurse Kelley Anaas about the charge. 

Anaas volunteered at the MNA booth Friday at the State Fair. She has been a nurse for 14 years and describes hospitals in a "dire" state.

"We’re short-staffed all the time, patients are sicker than I’ve ever seen them and we don’t have support from our ancillary staff," Anaas said. 

The MNA cites poor working conditions and is asking for more security, a 30% raise, and better staffing. The union and hospital executives have been bargaining for about five months now and some of the hospital systems are asking to include a mediator before turning to a strike. 

"A mediator is ultimately who comes in when you're close to a deal," Anaas said. "Right now we're still so far apart on a lot of these really important issues that there's not a deal yet to be struck." 

The MNA includes about 15,000 nurses from the Twin Cities, Twin Ports and Moose Lake and would impact seven health systems, including M Health Fairview, Children’s Minnesota, St. Luke's, North Memorial, Allina Health and Essentia Health.

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group that represents most of them writes:

"We are disappointed the nurses’ union today has rushed into an intent to strike notification and refuses to exhaust all available means to avoid potential disruption to patient care including our repeated offers of an outside mediator. Mediation was successfully used in previous contract talks and we believe it represents a practical way to bring focus and clarity to the negotiations. We encourage the nurses’ union and its supporters to focus on the pathways we’ve successfully used in the past.

"We understand the past two years have been hard on everyone in health care. Our care teams all worked exceptionally hard to care for patients and care for each other. Today, our non-profit hospitals continue to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes the pandemic brought to the workforce and our community. Despite the financial challenges to our hospitals, we are proud to have offered our nurses the largest wage increases in 15 years while agreeing to keep nurses’ benefits unchanged for the life of the contract. The nurses’ union continued demands for wage increases of more than 30 percent remain unreasonable, unrealistic and unaffordable.

"It is important for the public to note: our hospitals are open and will remain open to serve the community. We will continue our efforts at the negotiating table to reach reasonable agreements and avoid any actions that would interrupt patient care. We assume the union will do the same. We remain committed to serving our community and keeping our focus on the patients we serve."

Essentia Health wrote this in response:

 "We are disappointed that the MNA has called a strike. It is our belief that we have a shared responsibility to care for the communities we’re privileged to serve. At Essentia, we’re proud to have some of the finest nurses in the world; they are an integral part of that commitment. We look forward to reaching an agreement that benefits them while continuing to provide expert, compassionate — and uninterrupted — care for our patients.

"Progress has been made in talks, but significant gaps remain.

"The MNA is seeking a 32.5% wage increase over three years. Essentia offers competitive wages, sign-on and shift bonuses, tuition reimbursement/assistance and numerous other benefits. A 32.5% wage increase on top of that package is not sustainable. We are currently offering a 10% wage increase over three years.

"Because of these gaps, we have repeatedly requested mediation, which the union has consistently declined.

"Please note that today’s notice does not guarantee a strike will occur. Essentia will continue to negotiate in good faith in pursuit of a mutually beneficial agreement that supports quality patient care and good local jobs. Additional bargaining sessions are scheduled for next week.

"Essentia’s hospitals will remain open and accessible throughout this process. Should a strike occur, we have contingency staffing plans in place to preserve our ability to deliver the highest standards of patient care.

"In response to today’s announcement, Essentia joined other Minnesota health systems in filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The MNA failed to give the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services a required notice. It is our hope that by filing this charge we can return our focus to the bargaining table; we must exhaust every option to avoid a work stoppage. That is why we took this step.

"We respect the MNA’s right to call a legal strike. But they have not done so in this case, and we have a responsibility to provide patient care without disruption. The MNA would challenge any perceived failure to follow regulatory process on our part. We are holding them to the same level of accountability and urging them to continue bargaining with us."

And Allina Health also shared this statement:

"We are disappointed the union is choosing to rush to a strike before exhausting all options, like engaging a mediator in negotiations which they have repeatedly rejected. The union’s premature decision to move forward with a work stoppage is not Allina Health’s desired outcome of our negotiations. We made progress this week at the negotiating table and a strike only serves to keep our valued nurses from working alongside our care team to deliver needed patient care. 

"Throughout negotiations, Allina Health has offered an economic package that includes a wage increase of 11% over the three years of the contract, additional compensation benefits, and a commitment to other priority issues, such as diversity, equity and inclusion, workplace safety and recruitment and retention. The union is still at an unsustainable 31% wage increase over three years, which is not feasible as we look long-term at our responsibility to all employees and our commitment to being a sustainable asset to the communities we serve. 

"We know agreement on important issues for both parties is possible, and it is our preference to get back to the bargaining table with the help of a mediator. However, a work stoppage does not change our commitment to providing safe and reliable care to our communities and we have plans in place to continue providing care throughout the duration of the work stoppage."

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