MN Nurses Strike Ends, Negotiations Continue
Cassandra Hagen, contributor
On Sept. 12, over 15,000 nurses from 15 hospitals across Minnesota went on a three-day strike, one of the largest private sector strikes in nursing in United States history. Clad in bright red shirts with signs held high, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) hoped the strike might finally allow them to make headway on a variety of demands they have for a new contract.
For many, this strike has been a long time coming. Bargaining for new contracts has been faltering for over six months, with little headway on the changes many nurses seek, including the retention of workers, safer conditions, workplace-provided family leave and higher wages. Bargaining fell through just a few days before the strike occurred, while tensions and frustrations have been heightened by the challenges many in the nursing profession have faced during the pandemic, culminating in the now-historic strike.
“Covid has created a tremendous strain on nurses and has caused a large amount of burn out, causing nurses to leave the profession,” says Joyce Miller, Chair of Augsburg’s Nursing Department. “As a result, not enough nurses are there to take care of patients, one of the biggest issues and causes as to why they strike.”
This lack of nurses can especially be seen in the last few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 37,000 fewer health care workers today than there were in 2020. This leaves a gap to be filled, specifically by travel nurses. To combat understaffing, hospitals in the state have chosen to pay travel nurses rather than increase resident nurses’ wages. The prioritization of hiring travel nurses and the disparity in pay have only furthered frustrations. This was one of the reasons why Mandy Stanko, an operating room nurse at Fairview Masonic Children’s hospital, said she attended the strike.
“I attended the strike to support my fellow nurses and the Minnesota Nurses Association,” says Stanko. “MNA is really trying to implement a safe working environment as well as safe staffing in our contract. It’s extremely difficult to perform safe patient care when we are so short-staffed. Another important goal is to create a package to keep nurses from leaving. Unfortunately, we have lost thousands of nurses due to unsafe staffing during the pandemic. But picketing was actually very fun. It was great to see all my coworkers rallying together. We’re hoping that the three-day strike will send a message to the hospital leadership that these are critical issues that need to be resolved.”
With the strike ending last Thursday, Sept. 15, negotiations have resumed giving the MNA the opportunity to reach an agreement. Bargaining meetings have been occurring throughout this last week and headway is hopeful on some of the fronts. As best stated by Joyce Miller, “We support nurses – we support the fact that we need enough nurses, but also that they deserve safe staffing, and that they need to be cared for, especially now.”