Allina nurses voted yesterday to ratify a three-year contract and end their historic strike at five Twin Cities facilities, but their fight for workplace safety, adequate staffing and respect on the job isn’t over.
And after spending nearly a month and a half on the picket line this year, nurses know it’s a fight they are not in alone.
The contract campaign was a “lesson in labor education” for nearly 5,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association at Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United and Unity hospitals and Phillips Eye Institute, United nurse Bunny Engeldorf said.
“They were supported by the labor community for 38 days,” Engeldorf, a member of the union’s negotiations committee, said. “People joined them on the line and in the labor hall, talking to them, encouraging them, bringing them food and just being there for them. That was a lesson learned … that an injury to one is an injury to all.”
The contract, ratified by a majority vote, phases out nurses’ preferred health insurance plans – Allina’s top priority in negotiations.
But nurses were able to extract a guarantee from Allina that benefits under its “core plans” will not diminish through 2021. By extending that guarantee beyond the life of the new contract, set to expire in 2019, nurses also locked in an opportunity to negotiate health insurance again before Allina can alter coverage levels.
Additionally, the contract makes progress on two of nurses’ top priorities heading into negotiations, staffing and safety – but only if nurses make their voices heard on labor-management committees and task forces empowered to deal with those issues.
Engeldorf said she expects nurses to stay engaged and active, even as they begin returning to work in the coming days. Already, 30 nurses have volunteered to become new union stewards at United.
“Nurses are already coming up and asking, ‘How do I get on that committee? How do I become more involved?’” Engeldorf said. “We understand that this contract is only as good as we enforce it.”
MNA President Mary Turner acknowledged mixed emotions among Allina nurses, who rode a “roller coaster of emotions” in recent weeks, including some “anger and frustration and feeling that we need to keep fighting.”
“We had a lot of those arguments, and there’s a spectrum of emotion and opinion,” Turner said. “But it’s a democratic union, and the members have spoken.”
And while Allina may have gotten what it wanted most, the not-for-profit corporation likely paid a steep cost when it comes to relations between nurses and management.
“They will never be the same,” Engeldorf said. “Maybe they can be repaired – let’s hope so – but they will never be the same.”