Around 15,000 nurses in Minnesota and Wisconsin announced their intention to go on strike in 10 days over the ongoing nurse shortage. It is expected to be the largest nursing strike in U.S. history, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association. The demonstration will last for three days and affect nurses at 16 different hospital systems, including those in Duluth and the Twin Cities as well as Lake Superior, Wisconsin.
“Hospital executives with million-dollar salaries have created a crisis of retention and care in our healthcare system, as more nurses are leaving the bedside, putting quality patient care at risk,” said Mary Turner, RN at North Memorial Hospital and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
“Nurses do not take this decision lightly, but we are determined to take a stand at the bargaining table, and on the sidewalk if necessary, to put patients before profits in our hospitals.”
The union has been negotiating with the hospital systems it serves since March, but the talks have stalled in recent weeks. The nurses are asking for a permanent solution to the staffing and retention crisis and a 4% annual pay raise.
The union authorized the strike in a vote on Thursday. Allina Health responded to the news in a written statement.
“We are disappointed the union is choosing to rush to a strike before exhausting all options, like engaging a mediator in negotiations which they have repeatedly rejected. The union’s premature decision to move forward with a work stoppage is not Allina Health’s desired outcome of our negotiations. We made progress this week at the negotiating table and a strike only serves to keep our valued nurses from working alongside our care team to deliver needed patient care,” the company said.
The nurses are giving the system a 10-day notice, so it can start making arrangements to keep the hospitals open.
“We understand that patients still need care. And that is why the law requires that we give a ten-day notice to allow the hospitals to make alternative plans, hire travel nurses, and do what it takes to continue giving care to our patients. But we also know that if we do not take this stand, nothing is going to change, said First Vice President of Minnesota Nurses Association and RN at Essentia Chris Rubesch.
Staff say the problems began during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Allina has done little to address the issue.
“I have seen issues around staffing and patient care continue to be a concern over that entire time. COVID-19 has certainly shown a big, great spotlight on the problem. But the problem of staffing and recruiting and retaining nurses has been an issue far longer than that. We have been sounding the alarm on this issue for decades,” Rubesch explained.
Representatives for the MNA said the union pursued alternative solutions before authorizing the strike, but they now have no choice but to take their message to the streets.
“We have tried legislatively, we are trying now to bring solutions to the contract table and address the issue that way. The hospitals are saying, no, they are not interested there. So, we are really pushed to take this unprecedented action because we have no other choice. We are trying to work collaboratively to find creative solutions to the staffing crisis, and we really cannot continue with the status quo,” Rubesch said.
The union points out that there are now more registered nurses in the state than at any point in history, but it’s not enough to keep up with the rising demand for care.
“We are not only the nurses giving the care, but in our community, we live here. We are patients ourselves. Our family members. Our parents. Our neighbors. Our patients. And that is why we are doing this because we know that what is happening is not sustainable. We know that if we do not find a solution to the staffing crisis, we are not going to have enough caregivers to care for our community. And that is just not acceptable,” Rubesch stated.
He wants to see the hospitals do more to help bring more nurses into the field.
“We have a shortage of nurses willing to work in these conditions. And so we are happy to have and recruit these graduates, but we need to retain and bring back nurses to the bedside. Nurses are scared for their licenses, Rubesch shared. They are scared about what they are being asked to do, doing more with less. They are concerned about the care they are giving to their patients,” he said.