Thousands of Allina nurses and their supporters are spending Labor Day on the picket line, as members of the Minnesota Nurses Association today began an open-ended strike at five Twin Cities facilities.
For the second time this summer, union nurses at United, Abbott Northwestern, Mercy and Unity hospitals and Phillips Eye Institute walked off the job and onto the picket lines, this time in an open-ended strike. Allina nurses staged a seven-day strike at the same facilities in June.
Negotiations on a contract covering nearly 5,000 Allina nurses began in February, and since then the health provider has refused to budge from its demand for steep concessions from nurses on the issue of health insurance. Nurses say Allina negotiators will not even discuss their top priorities – issues like workplace safety and staffing for quality patient care – until they give up their quality, affordable insurance.
At a federally mediated, 22-hour bargaining session that stretched into the early-morning hours Saturday, nurses agreed to phase out their insurance and enter Allina’s preferred plans. But Allina balked at language guaranteeing nurses’ health benefits would not be cut or diminished during the life of the contract, as well as the union’s request to verify the value of Allina insurance plans with independent accountants.
Bunny Engeldorf, a nurse at United Hospital and member of the MNA negotiations team, called Allina’s refusal to compromise disrespectful to nurses.
“It seems like money and control are the only two issues they care about,” Engeldorf said. “We went to the table to talk about staffing and workplace safety, and they went to the table to talk about taking away our health insurance.”
No new negotiation dates have been set, and nurses say they will picket all five Allina facilities, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., until a settlement is reached. [Click for a list of ways you can support Allina nurses in their open-ended strike.]
Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and union spokesperson, said she thought the two sides were close to a settlement before Allina walked away from the table, noting progress on issues like 24-hour security in emergency rooms and allowing new nurses into the union health plans for a limited time.
“Just like a bully, Allina demanded nurses give up their affordable health insurance plans, and when we agreed to phase them out, they wanted more,” Becchetti said.
Teachers, clergy, public employees, elected officials and other supporters walked the picket line alongside nurses at United Hospital this morning. Several unions have delivered notice to Allina of their intent to picket, and delivery drivers reportedly were refusing to drive their vehicles past nurses’ picket lines.
“Nurses are fighting for their own health care, and it’s important that the people who take care of us have the best health care available,” Rep. Tim Mahoney, a retired member of St. Paul Pipefitters Local 455, said from the picket line. “After learning how far the nurses have moved (in negotiations), for Allina to say no to those particulars and force these people out on strike is unconscionable.”
Several picketers, including Rep. Erin Murphy, said the outpouring of solidarity was a poignant reminder of the true meaning of Labor Day.
“Labor Day recognizes all those who came before us who fought for fair working conditions,” said Murphy, who is a registered nurse. “But this is not a fight in our history, it’s a fight that continues into the future, and it’s appropriate that we’re here today on Labor Day.”