ST. PAUL -- Nurses in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports up in Duluth are putting the pressure on their employers for better wages and safety changes.
The 15,000 nurses that make up the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) announced on Thursday morning that they are going to vote on a decision to strike. The strike authorization vote will happen Monday.
"It's taking a toll on us. Everyday nurses are leaving," said Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis.
Becchetti says staff shortages and retention are among their biggest concerns right now. For perspective, MNA says they've lost 2,000 members since the beginning of the pandemic. The shortage burns out nurses with extra workload, and impacts the patient, too.
"Patients sat there and cried because they felt that they weren't getting the attention and care," said Becchetti.
Becchetti says another big issue is staff safety walking into work, with car jackings and armed robberies becoming too common.
"We've asked Allina to provide immediate notification to my cell phone that says, 'Hey, stay clear of this area. We want you to feel safe,' and [Allina] said they're not interested. They're not willing to put it in the contract for us," said Becchetti.
MNA says these issues have gone unresolved in negotiations with hospital executives over the last five months.
"That's why we're calling that vote on Monday," said Becchetti, "It needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now."
Even though members of MNA are deciding on whether to strike or not, most agree that a strike is what they hope to avoid.
"Whatever we vote on, however many days, even if it's just one day, we're all going to have in our hearts that we feel like we're abandoning our patients," said Mary Turner, the president of MNA in a news conference Thursday inside the MNA headquarters in St. Paul, "They're making us sound like we're greedy, when in fact all we're doing is trying to save our profession."
The strike authorization vote will need a two-thirds majority to pass. If it passes, union leaders would be able to set a strike date with at least 10 days' notice to employers, but could keep negotiating and reach a settlement before a strike happens.
Twin Cities Hospitals Group - which represents North Memorial, Children's Hospital, Methodist and Fairview - sent WCCO in a statement:
"We understand that the past two years have been hard on everyone in health care. Our care teams all worked exceptionally hard to care for patients and care for each other. Today, our non-profit hospitals continue to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes the pandemic brought to the workforce and our community. Despite the financial challenges to our hospitals, we are proud to have offered our nurses the largest wage increases in 15 years while agreeing to keep nurses' benefits unchanged for the life of the contract.
"While taking a strike authorization vote is the right of any union, we are disappointed that the nurses' union leadership has rushed into their strike authorization vote and continues to reject our offer of an outside mediator. Mediation was successfully used in previous contract talks, and we believe it represents a practical way to bring focus and clarity to the negotiations. We encourage the nurses' union and its supporters to focus on the pathways we've successfully used in the past.
"It is important for the public to note: our hospitals are open and will remain open to serve the community. Today's announcement from the nurses' union reflects only that they intend to ask their members to authorize a strike. It does not mean a strike is inevitable. We will continue our efforts at the negotiating table to reach reasonable agreements and avoid any actions that would interrupt patient care. We assume the union will do the same. We remain committed to serving our community and keeping our focus on the patients we serve."
Allina Health told WCCO in a statement:
"[Thursday] will mark the twelfth time we have met with the Minnesota Nurses Association to reach an agreement on a contract. It is our hope to reach a fair agreement that demonstrates our commitment to our valued nurses, while prioritizing community needs in light of on-going challenges being felt at Allina Health and throughout the non-profit health care industry.
"We have offered an economic package that includes a wage increase of 10.25% over the three years of the contract, as well as additional compensation benefits. We have also demonstrated our commitment to many of the union's priority issues, such as diversity, equity and inclusion, safety and security, and recruitment and retention.
"While we are disappointed the union is choosing to move to authorize a strike, our priority is providing high quality care to the community. We are hopeful we will begin to see progress at the bargaining table and avoid possible work stoppages that do not benefit anyone."
Watch an extended cut of the nurses union press conference below:
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