Nurses in Minnesota are voting on a second strike Wednesday, noting working conditions have "gotten worse, not better" since their last strike attempt failed to result in a deal with hospital chiefs.
The Minnesota Nurses Association last went on a historic strike in September, with around 15,000 nurses marching for three days. The decision came after multiple failed negotiations between the MNA and hospital executives regarding nurse contracts.
Results of the vote will be determined late Wednesday night. If the vote is approved by two-thirds of its members, the strike will be called by union leaders following a 10-day notice given to hospital employers.
According to the MNA, the organization claims it has made "every effort to negotiate in good faith and win fair contracts at the negotiating table." They accuse hospital executives of subjecting nurses to unfair labor practices, citing their refusal to bargain with union leaders in reaching an agreement that betters the working conditions for employees and staffing.
MNA President Mary Turner highlighted frequent workplace violence and how it could be addressed better with proper staffing. She noted one worker informing her this week that she "almost died" due to an incident at an undisclosed hospital.
"I've got nurses signing up for 16-hour shifts this weekend. That's just becoming the way of life for all of our nurses to regularly work double shifts, so that their floors can be covered," Turner said, noting that hospitals in the state are "full" with patients.
"We are seeing floors with no scheduled nurses, so we have nurses filling those needs by picking up longer shifts."
Turner added that the MNA has offered a new staffing proposal, which would focus on key indicators for both nurses' and patients' well-being to determine when staffing levels need to be reviewed and addressed. Some of the indicators would include an increase of falls, bed usage and employee injuries.
The union has been without a contract since June, with negotiations beginning in March. Wages have been a sticking point at the negotiating table, with tentative agreements reached on workplace safety measures and practices related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
MNA leaders have sought wage increases by 39% over the life of the next three-year contract, according to hospital leaders. Turner said during a press conference Wednesday morning that they've lowered their wage increases "down to 20%" over a proposed three-year deal.
During the last round of negotiations, hospitals said they offered around a 10-12% increase over three years, claiming it's the largest wage increase they have offered in the past 15 years.
According to the American Hospital Association, nearly half of the country's hospitals and health systems were left with negative operating margins by the end of 2020. In Minnesota, 33 hospitals and health systems reported financial losses, with the median operating margin dropping to 1.2%, according to the Minnesota Hospital Association.
Nurses have pointed out top health executive earnings and other use of funds within health systems as a deterrent.
MNA member Kelly Anaas, who is a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, claimed her employer called their second announcement of a looming strike "public theater" and "opportunistic."
"Opportunistic was [hospital employers] implementing crisis staffing during the peaks of the COVID pandemic and then never letting up when we weren't in those peaks and surges," Anaas said.
Twin Cities Hospital Groups, who represents Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health, Fairview and Methodist Hospital, said in a statement: "Our hospitals are committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair and equitable settlement that recognizes the dedication of our teams and the needs of the community."
Allina Health provided the following statement on their website regarding the potential second strike:
"When announcing its plan for a strike authorization vote later this month, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) publicly said it is open to mediation. Allina Health has repeatedly requested mediation for months and welcomes it as the best next step to reach agreement for all involved."
Essentia Health provided the following statement to Bring Me The News Wednesday:
"Essentia Health continues to believe that if both parties come to the table in good faith and engage in constructive discussions, we can reach an agreement that supports excellent patient care and the growth and development of all our nurses.
"That’s why we are disappointed to hear the MNA is considering another work stoppage. As we saw earlier this year, a strike does not bring us closer to an agreement. Our history of years of successful negotiations shows us that the best solutions are found through productive dialogue at the bargaining table.
"We remain committed to that effort and expect the MNA to explore with us innovative solutions that work for our nurses and the communities that we serve. In the meantime, Essentia’s highest priority will remain the safety and well-being of our patients. Updates about bargaining are available at essentiamnabargaining.org."
You can watch the full press conference below or by clicking here.