Striking nurses weigh contract proposal in advance of voting Monday

MNA spokesperson Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, talks with media about Allina's most recent proposal to striking nurses.

MNA spokesperson Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, talks with media about Allina’s most recent proposal to striking nurses.

Striking nurses will vote Monday on a three-year contract proposal from Allina that makes some gains on staffing and safety – two of their top issues – but wasn’t good enough to win a recommendation from the union’s bargaining team.

Nurses fought tooth and nail with Allina over the course of mediated talks this week that spanned three days but “felt much longer than that,” United Hospital nurse and bargaining team member Bunny Engeldorf said at a press conference in Minneapolis today.

“It was not easy to leave that table,” she added, without a tentative agreement they could recommend, but all 15 members of the bargaining team agreed Allina nurses deserve an opportunity to vote.

Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and union spokesperson, said negotiators are “confident nurses will make the best informed decision come Monday.”

More than 4,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association have been on strike at five Allina facilities in the Twin Cities area since Labor Day.

Voting Monday will take place at four locations close to the picket lines outside United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and Unity Hospital in Fridley. Nurses already are able to review the 41-page contract proposal, and the union will hold several meetings to answer questions and discuss the terms.

In talks that began Tuesday, nurses were finally able to get Allina to address their staffing concerns. The provider agreed to establish a labor-management team to evaluate whether charge nurses should be assigned patients. Combined with provisions to improve nurses’ safety on the job, the staffing language represents some progress on “what we wanted this contract to address,” Engeldorf said.

Allina’s top priority in contract negotiations, which began in February, was eliminating nurses’ preferred, quality health insurance plans and moving them into the provider’s corporate plans.

Nurses eventually relented, but they continued to fight for language assuring their benefits would not diminish over the course of the contract. They came away with a partial victory, negotiators said, noting that it was an improvement on what Allina offered in talks before the strike began.

MNA Executive Director Rose Roach said bargaining issues with Allina felt “like dealing with molasses,” and she credited the 15 members of the union’s bargaining team for having “pushed as far as they could.”

If a majority votes to reject the proposal Monday, the strike will continue. If members vote to accept, union leaders and Allina will begin discussing how the 4,000-plus strikers return to work.

Until the two sides reach a settlement, picket lines will stay up, and union negotiators were quick to dispel any notion that nurses would begin crossing the line before then. Striking nurses are set to lose their employer-provided health insurance tomorrow.

“Allina thinks Oct. 1 is a deadline for their nurses,” Becchetti said. “It’s not. We’re calling it Red October. We’ll be out here in full force.”

Regardless of how the vote goes, one thing is already clear: The relationship between Allina Health and its nurses is at an all-time low.

“The level of disrespect they have shown for their greatest ally, the nurses, has cost them something that can’t be put on a balance sheet,” Roach said.

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