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Nurses, hospital leaders back at bargaining table, but with little progress

About 15,000 nurses went on strike for three days recently to fight for better security, higher pay and more staff.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota nurses and hospital leaders are back at the bargaining table, focused on negotiating several contracts.

Fifteen-thousand nurses went on strike from Sept. 12-14.

The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) union and hospital leaders have been negotiating for about six months now. There were several meetings between the two this week with more scheduled next week.

Billed the largest nurses strike in history, it impacted 15 hospitals across the state — but did it influence contract negotiations between the two parties?

"It's not clear that the purpose of the strike was to put pressure, direct pressure, on management and bring the two groups together at the bargaining table," said Macalester College history professor Peter Rachleff.

Rachleff said the strike was instead a battle for public opinion.  

"It’s not about convincing the managers of the hospitals, it’s about getting the public to convince the managers of the hospitals," said Rachleff. "And to reach people who are touched by the health care system and its problems."

Nurses are fighting for a three-year contract with better security and a 30% raise. Allina Health called the increase "unstainable and unreasonable," instead offering 12%.

Confirming it last negotiated with the union on Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson wrote in a statement Friday, "We have negotiated in good faith with the union over the last six months, and it is time to narrow the scope of proposals. Yet the union continues to have more than 100 open items and is still bringing new proposals to the table. This wide-ranging approach only serves to slow progress."

"I think the nature of collective bargaining and negotiations is that both sides are supposed to give in," said Rachleff. "I think the question is where economically, in terms of ego and power, where is there room to move?" 

Nurses also want more staff, along with more of a say about staff numbers.

Allina says it should have the right to make final decisions, while the union says too few employees is a crisis at the bedside. 

A statement from an Allina spokesperson said, "Our nurses provide an informed perspective, and their expertise is, and always has been, an integral part of our staffing and operations decisions. However, what they continue to ask for with their staffing proposals is veto power over staffing decisions. That is incompatible with our ability to manage the overall complex operations of hospitals and deliver care to our patients and communities. We must maintain the right to make the final decisions on staffing."

The two parties are not set to meet again until Oct. 6. 

"You would think that both the nurses and the management of the hospitals share an interest in attracting more qualified, talented, committed people," said Rachleff.

As far as pay, the Allina spokesperson also wrote, "We know wages are an important issue to reach a settlement. MNA is still seeking a wage increase of more than 30%, as well as dozens of additional economic proposals that are costly. As a non-profit health care system facing significant financial losses, this is unreasonable and unsustainable. We believe our nurses deserve to be recognized and have offered an additional across-the-board wage increase of 12% over the three years of the contract, in addition to their existing step increases in pay and comprehensive benefits package. This offer will keep our nurses among the highest compensated in the country, a fact that we are proud of."

St. Luke's spokesperson said that it has not yet met with the MNA and its next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Essentia Health met with the union on Tuesday and is scheduled for another session on Sept. 27. It said in a statement that, "We’re pleased to be back at the bargaining table and working toward an agreement that benefits our valued nurses and preserves access to the expert and compassionate care our patients expect. We have additional sessions scheduled for later this month and early next month."

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group, representing Fairview, Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health and Methodist Hospital, says they all met with the MNA this week and are scheduling additional talks for next week.

In their own statement on Friday, the MNA wrote, "Negotiations resumed this week after hospital executives previously cancelled meetings scheduled for last week. Unfortunately, hospital executives still have not shown interest in addressing the crisis of under staffing and care at the bedside that nurses have raised as a top priority. Nurses remain committed to settling fair contracts at the negotiating table to improve care and working conditions in Minnesota hospitals."

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