Nurses picket in Minneapolis as threat of massive strike looms

More than 15,000 nurses throughout Minnesota could walk off the job if a deal isn't made with hospitals.

Monday, nurses with Hennepin County Medical Center held an informational picket. Nurses at a public hospital like HCMC are not allowed to go out on strike; it’s the law. But they are negotiating a new wage package and their concerns reverberate across the systems where we could see thousands of nurses walk off the job at some point.

"They're burnt out," said HCMC nurse Andi Sherek. "They're completely burnt out. Short staffing has burnt everybody out. The workplace violence has burnt everybody out."

For several hours Monday, union nurses flocked to the sidewalks outside HCMC for informational picketing. They’re concerned about job exhaustion from understaffing coming out of the pandemic as well as workplace safety conditions at the front-line, public hospital in downtown Minneapolis.

The group says they’re hoping to get management to listen at a time when the union is negotiating a new wage package for its members.

"Our message today is that our nurses are tired," said ICU nurse Jeremy Olson-Ehlert. "We've been demanding safe staffing for a long time now. Executive leadership does not answer the call."

Nurses picket in Minneapolis on Monday, August 22, 2022. (FOX 9)

Meantime, more than 15,000 union members with the Minnesota Nurses Association at private healthcare facilities including Allina, M Health Fairview, and North Memorial recently authorized a full-fledged strike across the state.

They’re working without a labor contract and are currently in negotiations with similar demands to those outside Hennepin Health. 15 hospitals that could see a potentially crippling walkout with just 10 days’ notice from union leadership.

Janette Dill with the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health focuses her research on the health care workforce.

"It's a huge strike," explains Dill. "15,000 nurses is an enormous number. So certainly that will have a big impact on the health systems here. But there's a lot of support for unions right now. They have a lot of public support and we've seen a lot of labor organizations over the last couple of years because the labor market is so tight. So workers have a lot of power right now."

Monday night, Hennepin Health issued a statement offering support to its employees and their right to express themselves during this picketing, adding that there is confidence a fair settlement can be reached with their valued nurses.

Meantime negotiations with those 15,000 MNA nurses across seven of the state’s largest healthcare systems continue with the goal of avoiding a mass strike that would be one of the largest of its kind in the United States.