Union nurses announce strike vote as negotiations with 15 hospitals stall

By: - August 11, 2022 11:48 am

Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner announces on Aug. 11, 2022 that 15,000 nurses will vote on whether to authorize a strike. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Unionized nurses at 15 hospitals across the Twin Cities and the Duluth area will vote on Monday on whether to authorize a strike, as negotiations remain stalled over staffing levels and wages. 

A vote to strike wouldn’t lead to nurses immediately walking off the job but would allow the Minnesota Nurses Association to call some 15,000 away from bedsides to picket lines for any duration with 10 days notice. 

“We don’t take this lightly,” said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and an intensive care nurse at North Memorial Health Hospital.

“We do it reluctantly … even one day (on strike), we’re all going to have in our hearts that we feel like we’re abandoning our patients.” 

A two-thirds vote is required to authorize a strike, which could range from a single day to an open-ended work stoppage.  

The strike vote is the latest in a series of steps the union has taken to ratchet up pressure on hospital executives. Since June, the union has waged an aggressive public relations campaign, believing the public will stand behind them for better pay and more staffing after two-and-a-half years of the pandemic. 

In June, nurses across the Twin Cities and Duluth picketed outside their hospitals, railing against high executive compensation. Last week, the unionized nurses announced they had taken a symbolic vote of no confidence in hospital executives. 

Nurses say hospitals are dangerously understaffed, leading to more patient injuries like bed sores and falls. Turner pointed to a recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health that shows adverse health events were up 33% in 2021 from 2020. 

Last year, nurses filed nearly 8,000 reports of unsafe staffing levels, an increase of 300% from 2014, Turner said. Nurses file the reports when they fear low staffing levels could lead to patient injuries, which could also jeopardize nurses’ licenses if they’re found to be at fault.

“These are the consequences of corporate health care policies pursued by our hospital executives with million-dollar salaries,” Turner said. 

Nurses want more say in staffing levels, as well as significant pay increases to match months of soaring inflation and retain nurses on the verge of leaving the profession. 

Hospital leaders have said the wage increases the nurses are seeking — at one point as much as 37% over the next three years — are “unrealistic, unaffordable, and unwise.” They have countered with raises around 10% over the next three years, which a spokesperson for several Twin Cities hospitals said would be the highest raise in 15 years. 

Nurses counter that patient costs continue to rise — along with executive pay — even as there are fewer nurses working shifts. They also say the chronic labor shortage cannot be solved unless hospitals increase pay and benefits and improve working conditions. 

Nurses accuse hospital leaders of taking advantage of their compassion for patients to continue working even as they become responsible for more and more patients. But they say the difficult conditions are driving nurses from the bedside. 

A recent survey from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found a little more than half of nurses are considering leaving the profession in the next year, mainly because of what they say are unsafe staffing levels.  

“That’s a public health crisis,” Turner said. 

The hospitals where nurses could strike are: Abbott Northwestern, North Memorial, Mercy, United, Unity, Children’s Minneapolis, Children’s St. Paul, Essentia (Duluth), Essentia (Superior, Wisc.), Methodist, M Health Fairview Riverside, Southdale, HealthEast St. Joe’s, HealthEast St. John’s and St. Luke’s Duluth. 

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.