The nurses at Allina WestHealth in Plymouth, MN are going on strike to protest poor pay and unsafe working conditions. Without the necessary staff, the facility says it is closing the emergency room for three days until the matter can be resolved. One nurse says the demonstration will displace hundreds of people and cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
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The strike started at 7 a.m. local time on Sunday. The nurses are part of the Minnesota Nurses Association, which has been negotiating with the facility since May. The two parties failed to reach an agreement earlier this year on a number of issues, including holiday pay, which the MNA says most nurses in the Twin Cities already have.
If the company accepts their offer, nurses would be paid time and a half when they work on holidays.
“They’re telling us if these 48 nurses were to receive summer holiday pay that Allina somehow feels committed, that they’ll also have to provide that to the non-contract employees. And frankly, we think they should. That should also be the case for non-contract employees,” said Sonya Worner, a registered nurse at WestHealth.
Allina says it couldn’t find enough nurses to make ends meet during the strike, so it had no choice but to close the ER.
Worner said the company believes their contracts are just “good enough.”
According to a recent press release from the MNA, “WestHealth nursing staff stayed the course during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, in its wake, Allina is refusing to make the necessary movement toward a fair contract. Allina admitted that it is not because they don’t have the money to fund the minor benefit increases we are asking for, but stated that our contract is ‘good enough,’” said Worner.
The company reacted to the demonstration in an official statement.
“Allina Health is disappointed the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA)’s approximately 50 nurses who work in Abbott Northwestern WestHealth’s Emergency Department and Urgent Care facilities have chosen to strike.”
In addition to the closure, the company said it will be diverting patients to other hospitals in the community. “Allina Health’s priority is providing high quality care to the community. Patients can receive the same level of care at our Abbott Northwestern Hospital Emergency Department, additional Urgent Care locations, and our Virtual Urgent Care and Everyday Online care options.”
In terms of the ongoing negotiation, the company said:
“Allina Health and Abbott Northwestern WestHealth have negotiated 7 times with MNA. A contract settlement was previously reached and unanimously recommended by the union’s bargaining team. Unfortunately, the MNA could not finalize that agreement. Throughout negotiations, we have consistently offered proposals that demonstrate our commitment to our employees, including an immediate wage increase to align wages with other metro hospitals and agreeing to some of the union’s other priority issues.”
The company went on to criticize the striking nurses for disrupting essential care.
“At a time when hospitals are under significant pressure throughout the state and country due to sustained high volumes from COVID-19 and other acute illness, a work stoppage benefits no one. It is our preference to reach an agreement on a new contract that prioritizes the health needs of the community and sustainably recognizes the contributions of our employees.”
However, the MNA says it’s not backing down any time soon. The nurses argue there are several healthcare locations just 10 miles away.