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'Nurses are fed up': Labor expert discusses historic nurses strike

The staffing issue, according to nurses, is where the dollars need to go.

MINNEAPOLIS — For three days, nurses made their point to the public, and to their employers.

"I think the three-day strike proves that nurses are fed up, they took this action; they are willing to sacrifice a paycheck," said Dr. Rebecca Givan, associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. "It's stressful to go on strike. I think they are demonstrating to the employer that they are necessary and crucial to the work of hospitals and they are willing to stand together and fight for their patients."

And for three days, hospitals made their point, too. They've said in statements that they care about patient care, and are offering nurses a 10% pay bump as a counter to the nurses' demand for 30%.

"From the hospitals, I think we will see what happens at the bargaining table. They will want to send a message that striking doesn't get you anywhere, but the reality is that it does, and both sides know it. Best case scenario, this leads to movement and progress, and both sides agree they have a shared interest in providing higher quality patient care and find a common path to do that," Givan said.

The common path isn't visible just yet, and when the dust settles from a strike, sides do look outward to see how their messages landed to us — the people — who in essence, are the potential patients. This time, the message is clear: This isn't just about money.

"Testing public support is complicated and not all members of the public will agree, but I think it's clear in this case that it's not primarily about the money. Although the nurses do want their pay to keep up with inflation, and perhaps they feel insulted about the pay that agency nurses are getting, or that replacement nurses during the strike are getting, it's really about sufficient staffing for patient care, and I think progress on that would result in these contracts being settled," Givan said.

The staffing issue, according to nurses, is where the dollars need to go to make sense.

"The thing about staffing shortages is the solutions to them are good for everyone. So when health care employers, hospitals, decide to invest in more staff, that provides more stability and makes nurses' jobs better because they can provide that quality patient care, and they stay in their jobs longer. So then the retention problem is solved — they don't burn out and leave the profession," Givan said.

As far as hospital administration staffing, she says it's not straightforward.

"There are many nurses out there who try travel nursing and agency work because they want to make more money and be less connected to a hospital where they don't feel they can provide sufficient care," she said. "So by making better jobs, there will be many, many well-qualified nurses who will come back as staff and stop doing this agency/travel grind for the money alone."

The nurses union said nurses are ready to go back to work Wednesday night and Thursday but are also ready for round two. However, the union didn't elaborate on what that means.

So, this isn't over. 

It's just moving on to more work that goes toward what is best for all.

Allina said today it hopes to schedule negotiations for next week.

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