Negotiations continue between MNA, hospital providers as strike nears

At the Double Tree hotel in Bloomington, pressure mounts as negotiations between the Minnesota Nurses Association and several large healthcare providers continue. Earlier this month, MNA announced its intent to strike on Sept. 12, following more than five months of talks.

A strike would include 15,000 nurses.

“There has been no major progress,” said Angela Becchetti on Friday evening. She is a nurse at Abbott Northwestern and is part of the MNA negotiating team. “They have to actually come and address our proposals and they’re just not doing that.”

According to Becchetti, the nurses’ union’s top priorities are staffing, retention, and addressing workplace violence.

“Safety at the bedside, metal detection at the entrances and then also notifications on the streets if we need to stay clear of an issue, better protection if we are injured to have that covered and have the right resources to care for ourselves,” she explained.

There are sixteen hospitals that could be affected by a strike, across seven healthcare systems.

Those hospitals are Riverside, Southdale, St. Joseph’s, St. John’s, St. Mary’s Duluth, St. Mary’s Superior, Essentia Moose Lake, Methodist, Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United, Unity, Children’s Minneapolis, Children’s St. Paul, North Memorial and St. Luke’s, according to MNA.

“I would love to avoid it,” said Becchetti. “I would love to go to my nurses and say we came to a tentative agreement but the way it’s been going I just don’t see that happening right now.”

Twin Cities Hospitals Group represents the M Health Fairview hospitals, Children’s Minnesota, Park Nicollet Methodist and North Memorial Health in the negotiations. The organization did not make anyone available for an interview on Friday.

In a statement on Thursday, the group said there were still “wide gaps remaining between union wage demands and the economic realities of hospitals that have not recovered financially from the pandemic [… ] Leaders of the Twin Cities Hospitals Group reaffirmed their commitment to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair and equitable contract agreement and remain committed to talk with the nurses’ union.”

Allina Health told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Friday that its leaders still hope for progress.

In a statement, an Allina spokesperson said, “Our negotiating team is meeting with the union again today and we continue to hope for continued progress since the open contracts will only be settled at the bargaining table. We are disappointed the union continues to demand an unsustainable wage increase of more than 30% over three years in addition to many other economic benefits. Rushing to a strike before exhausting all options such as engaging a neutral federal mediator does not benefit our employees, patients or the communities we serve.

Our teams are committed to minimizing any disruptions in care and have built flexibility into our planning and operations. Patients will be contacted directly if there is any change in their appointments We want to emphasize to our community members that our hospitals, urgent care locations and primary care clinics are open for care.”

MNA initially requested a 15% increase in the first year of the contract, 12% in the second year and 12% in the third year. A union spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they’ve since dropped their request to 13% in the first year, 9% in the second year and 8% in the third year.

“Allina has offered 5%, 4%, 3% and that doesn’t cut it for us,” said Becchetti. “We’re willing to make movement on any of our proposals as long as they address some of our big issues.”

An Allina spokesperson confirmed to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it made that offer.

Each healthcare system pledges to remain open in the event of a strike.

Children’s Minnesota said in a statement, “Children’s Minnesota has had contingency plans in place for several months in anticipation of a possible strike. Part of those plans included nationally recruiting registered nurses who are experienced and specially trained in pediatric care. Travel nurses have begun arriving (since Sept. 7, 2022). They will also complete training and orientation at Children’s Minnesota. This will ensure that during the time of a potential strike, Children’s Minnesota will continue to provide kids the care they need by qualified, licensed staff. Families can rest assured that, should they need us, Children’s Minnesota will continue to provide quality care to our patients.”

A spokesperson for North said in a statement, “We will continue offering a full range of services, including inpatient, outpatient and Emergency Department care in Robbinsdale. Nurses, therapists, technical staff, supervisory staff and other team members will be available to continue hospital operations. All other North Memorial Health-based services — including clinics, urgent care centers, Maple Grove Hospital, EMS and other outpatient services — will not have team members on strike and will remain open as usual. We are also proud of our non-clinical team members who have stepped up to serve in temporary support roles, including hospital way finders and greeters to ensure next week operates smoothly for our patients and visiting nurses. Our planning efforts are ongoing and dependent on hospital census, which changes hour to hour. We are prepared to serve patients for any scheduled appointments. We encourage community members to continue to seek healthcare services from North Memorial Health as they ordinarily would. If any services are impacted, we will notify impacted patients directly.”

St. Luke’s shared a statement, which reads, “St. Luke’s greatly values all our employees. We remain committed to reaching an agreement with MNA that is fair to all our staff, patients and communities. We have had two negotiating sessions this week and will meet again on Saturday. We are fully prepared for the work stoppage. Our replacement agency has done a phenomenal job filling our RN needs. Every position we requested has been filled with qualified, licensed nurses who will join our other highly skilled inpatient care team members to continue providing safe, top-quality care. St. Luke’s will be open for all inpatient, emergency and clinic-based care. We have rescheduled some non-urgent surgeries and procedures. Affected patients have already been notified, and we appreciate their understanding.”

Essentia Health said in a statement, “While Essentia Health continues to negotiate a new contract with the Minnesota Nurses Association, it’s important to note that our hospitals will remain open and accessible for patient care even if a strike occurs beginning Monday, Sept. 12. patient care even if a strike occurs beginning Monday, Sept. 12. Like any responsible health system, we have prepared for a wide range of contingencies to ensure we can maintain our high standards of patient care, including uninterrupted urgent and emergency care. These plans include bringing in temporary and licensed nurses as well as redirecting qualified staff from other Essentia Health facilities to fill any needs that might arise. Our plans will allow us to continue serving our communities with the kind of expert and compassionate care they expect and deserve. A small number of elective surgeries and previously scheduled appointments may need to be rescheduled. Those patients will be contacted directly. Health systems are accustomed to navigating difficult situations, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. There are steps we can take and resources we can use in support of our top priority, which is the safety and well-being of the patients and communities we’re privileged to serve.”

On Thursday, the Twin Cities Hospital Group said, in part, “Patients with more generalized health care needs should continue work with their health care provider regarding the scheduling of services and seek care in a primary care, urgent care or telehealth setting, if possible. Minnesota’s more than 120 non-profit hospitals continue to work together to ensure that services are not interrupted during a strike.”

Minnesota’s Department of Health also shared a statement, saying “The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is prepared to respond to complaints and monitor impacts to patient safety during a nurses’ strike. MDH’s Health Regulation Division is prepared to fulfill its role to protect patient safety by responding to complaints and monitoring impacts to patient health and safety. Once a strike occurs, MDH’s Health Regulation Division meets internally to monitor any potential impact and receives ongoing updates from affected hospitals. In regards to staffing shortages or other problems hospitals might face, hospital strike plans must address how they will handle these types of situations. Each hospital’s plan can be individual. They may determine they need to curtail services to meet patient needs. A strike plan should include the processes put in place to ensure they can continue to provide safe and appropriate care. The hospitals should have protocols in place to address strike activity-including use of outside staff from staffing agencies, and systems to ensure emergency procedures are in place, among other things.”