MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of nurses in Minnesota launched a three-day strike Monday, complaining of low salaries and understaffing worsened by the strains of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 15,000 nurses at seven health care systems in the Minneapolis and Duluth areas walked out. The affected hospitals said they recruited temporary nurses and expected to maintain most services.
Picket signs went up and strike chants began at 7 a.m. outside 15 Twin Cities and Duluth area hospitals.
The hospitals and the striking nurses said staff shortages are a shared concern.
Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner said pay raises are necessary to address the “crisis of retention” that would otherwise leave the hospitals severely understaffed.
The hospitals have offered 10 percent to 12 percent wage increases but the nurses are seeking more than 30 percent. Hospital leaders called their wage demands unaffordable, noting that Allina and Fairview hospitals have posted operating losses and that the cost of such sharp wage increases would be passed along to patients.
“The union rejected all requests for mediation and held fast to wage demands that were unrealistic, unreasonable and unaffordable,” several of the Twin Cities hospitals under strike said in a joint statement.
Second-year nurse Madi Gay, who was picketing Monday morning after completing her overnight shift, told the Star Tribune that she had already reduced her hours at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital because of the stress and frustration of caring for so many severely ill patients.
“How long can you keep this up?” Gay asked. “My license is on the line.”
Union spokesperson Sam Fettig said the nurses settled on a three-day rather than open-ended strike because of concerns about the impact of drawn-out labor action on patient care.
“As the nurses always say, this isn’t something they want to be doing, they want to be at the bedside providing care,” Fettig said.
Hospitals argued that the proposals by the union and its nurses are too costly.
“It just isn’t a realistic number,” Paul Omodt, a spokesperson for several of the Minneapolis-area hospitals, said last month.
The hospitals affected by the strike included those operated by Allina Health, M Health Fairview, Children’s Hospital, North Memorial and HealthPartners. In Duluth, it was Essentia and St Luke’s.
As union members in Minnesota walked the picket line, UW Health nurses and the UW Hospital board in Wisconsin approved an agreement intended to avert a strike that had been scheduled to start Tuesday, a spokesperson for the nurses’ union said Monday.
Nurses and administrators didn’t immediately release details of that agreement. The hospital board and 97 percent of nurses who voted approved the deal, according to SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin.
The Minnesota nurses’ strike comes amid an upsurge in union activity nationwide.
A national railroad strike could begin as early as Friday unless Congress steps in to block it. The two largest railroad unions have been demanding that the major freight carriers go beyond a proposed deal recommended by arbitrators appointed by President Joe Biden.
Some high-profile companies, including Starbucks, are among those trying to stifle ongoing unionization efforts. Since late last year, more than 230 U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize. Starbucks opposes unionization.