(FOX 9) - Fifteen thousand union nurses in Minnesota have walked off the job, with many picketing after failing to reach an agreement with hospital executives.
Who is affected?
Nurses with the Minnesota Nurses Association, or MNA, are striking at 15 hospitals across seven different hospital systems in the Twin Cities and Duluth, as well as Superior, Wisconsin. The strike is believed to be the largest private-sector nurses' strike in U.S. history, according to the union.
MNA voted to authorize a strike in mid-August. The union announced in early September that nurses intended to strike for three days, beginning on Sept. 12. The strike will run from 7 a.m. Monday through 7 a.m. Thursday.
The following hospitals are affected: Riverside, Southdale, St. Joseph's, and St. John’s (M Health Fairview); St. Mary's Duluth, and St. Mary's Superior (Essentia Health); Methodist (HealthPartners); Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United and Unity (Allina Health); Children's Minneapolis and Children’s St. Paul (Children's Hospitals); North Memorial (North Memorial) and St. Luke's (St. Luke's).
Nurses at the Essentia hospital in Moose Lake were also set to go on strike on Monday as well but reversed course Sunday night and withdrew their strike notice.
Why are nurses going on strike?
MNA has said it is "fighting for fair contracts to improve patient care and working conditions at the bedside." When nurses announced they planned to strike, union president Mary Turner said they feel overworked and underappreciated, and they’re watching their colleagues leave the bedside in droves.
"Nurses do not take this decision lightly, but we are determined to take a stand at the bargaining table, and on the sidewalk if necessary, to put patients before profits in our hospitals," Turner had said.
Negotiations have been taking place since March without reaching a resolution. The nurses’ union has been asking for a solution to short staffing and retention issues, and an annual salary increase of more than 4 percent.
Nurses and supporters gathered Sunday in Duluth to reiterate the reasons for the strike. One nurse even broke down in tears. Nurses said they don’t want to walk off the job, but they feel they have to in order to improve conditions for themselves and their patients.
"Everyone in Minnesota talks about the importance of health care. Our nurses cannot continue being understaffed," said Bernie Burnham, president of Minnesota AFL-CIO. "Patients deserve to be treated in a timely manner with dignity and respect."
How have hospitals responded to the nurses’ demands?
The Twin Cities Hospitals Group said in a statement it is "deeply disappointed the nurses’ union has chosen to strike before exhausting all efforts to reach an agreement." The hospitals called the nurses’ wage demands "unrealistic, unreasonable and unaffordable."
Jill Ostrem, the president of Allina Health’s Mercy and United hospitals, appeared on FOX 9’s Sunday Morning news. She is not involved in the contract negotiations.
"We never want to see a strike happen. That doesn't help resolve anything, but we do want to be prepared to make sure that our patients get safe and reliable care and that we're here for our communities throughout the duration of the work stoppage," Ostrem said.
How will hospitals be staffed during the strike?
The Twin Cities Hospitals Group said hospitals will be staffed with experienced nurse managers and leaders, trained replacement nurses, and some existing traveler nurses.
Ostrem has been preparing her hospitals for the strike. She said when union nurses leave on Monday morning, replacement nurses will be on-site for the duration of the strike.
"We work with our staffing agency and they source nurses from all over the country with experience talent and skill. They're reviewed, vetted, and they all come through and have a Minnesota license," Ostrem said.
If I need emergency care over the three days of the strike, will I get it?
Yes. The hospitals group said patients with emergent health care issues should continue to call 911 or go to their nearest emergency room. Patients with more generalized health care needs should work with their health care provider regarding the scheduling of services and seek care in a primary care, urgent care, or telehealth setting, whenever possible.
"We are mindful that a strike will be disruptive to the services we provide but Minnesota’s more than 120 non-profit hospitals will continue to work together to care for our fellow Minnesotans. While we plan for contingencies like this, we know there may be impacts beyond what we can control," the hospitals group said in its statement.