ST PAUL, Minn. — Governor Tim Walz Tuesday made a show of solidarity with the striking nurses, stopping by a picket line to tell union nurses he respects their right to bargain with the hospitals.
It came on the second day of an announced three-day strike by the 15,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association against eight health systems, affecting 15 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Walz spoke to nurses from Children’s and United Hospitals who were picketing along a three-block stretch of Smith Avenue in St. Paul.
Walz thanked the nurses for putting themselves in danger during the COVID pandemic and for the work they do daily taking care of patients in hospital settings.
"It was nurses who were there to comfort the families, and it was nurses who were there to get tens of thousands of people through this so they could get back to their families," Walz told the group after being handed a megaphone.
"You walk here today to make sure health care is delivered in the safest, most efficient manner. And you walk here today to make sure young people see this profession for what it is: caring, valuable and important to Minnesota."
The visit appeared on the governor’s calendar as an event that was closed to the press and the exact location wasn’t revealed. But some media accurately guessed he’d go to the largest picket line nearest to the State Capitol and were able to capture the moment.
"Me, the first lady, the lieutenant governor — our entire administration — we stand with you in solidarity to protect our patients. We stand with you in your right to collectively bargain."
In 2016 the nurses strike against Allina Medical was settled after a series of private talks at the governor’s residence in St. Paul, with negotiations led by then-Lieutenant Gov. Tina Smith. But on Tuesday the current lieutenant governor donned a red MNA t-shirt and walked the picket line with nurses.
"I'm going to be out here for a little bit walking this line with you all because this is where we need to be. I had my baby at this hospital!"
Walz was asked if his ability to negotiate between the two sides be impaired, if it came down to that, considering his appearance with the striking nurses.
"No. I think one of the things is we stand strong with making sure that Minnesotans get the best health care available, and as I said, these were nurses who were asked to walk in there, and in many cases, we didn't know what they were going into," Walz replied.
"They served every day. We know this profession is under threat. We know we’re losing nurses. Their right to collectively bargain is one that we’re reinforcing, and we know these negotiations need to be done in good faith."
The governor said negotiations in this strike will likely be handled by federal mediators, working through the National Labor Relations Board.
"Their right to collectively bargain is one that we're reinforcing, and we know these negotiations need to be done in good faith."
KARE reached out to Republican Scott Jensen's campaign for reaction Tuesday but hadn’t received a response as of the time this article was published. Jensen has previously said that if the nurses were to go on strike while he was governor, he would try to bring the two sides together.
The health systems in negotiations with the nurses' union include Allina, Children's, North Memorial, HealthPartners, M Health Fairview, Essentia Health and St. Luke's.