15K Minnesota nurses voting on whether to go on strike

About 15,000 nurses in the Twin Cities and Duluth area are voting on whether to authorize a strike if an agreement isn't reached on a new contract they've been negotiating since March. 

The nurses, who are part of the Minnesota Nurses Association, are voting on Monday until 10 p.m. If two-thirds vote yes, the vote would authorize nurse negotiation leaders to call a strike 10 days after giving notice to hospital employers. 

If the nurses do go on strike, the Minnesota Nurses Association says it would be one of the largest nurses strikes in U.S. history, and would mark the first time nurses in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports took action together in contract negotiations. 

Union leaders say hospital executives are failing to address nurses' concerns about retention, staffing shortages, and quality of patient care. Nurses held an informational picket at 15 hospitals in June about contract negotiations and these issues. Nurses' current contracts expired on June 30.

"Corporate healthcare policies in our hospitals have left nurses understaffed and overworked, while patients are overcharged, local hospitals and services are closed, and executives take home million-dollar paychecks," Chris Rubesch, RN at Essentia in Duluth and First Vice President of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said in a news release. "Nurses have one priority in our hospitals, to take care of our patients, and we are determined to fight for fair contracts so nurses can stay at the bedside to provide the quality care our patients deserve."

In a statement to FOX 9, the Twin Cities Hospitals Group, comprised of Children's Minnesota, North Memorial, Fairview, and Methodist Hospitals, cited the pandemic for their staffing woes. They also criticized the union for moving to vote on a potential strike.

"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," the statement reads. 

Negotiations continue, but nurses could hit the picket line as soon as the end of August. 

Minnesota nurses approved strikes in 2010 and 2016.