Allina nurses’ strike calls for negotiations

On Sunday, about 5,000 nurses began a week-long strike over a revised health contract plan.

Kevin Beckman

Thousands of Twin Cities nurses went on strike Sunday morning after negotiations with Allina Health broke down in early June following a deadlock over health insurance coverage. 

A group of about 4,800 nurses from Abbott Northwestern, Phillips Eye Institute, Mercy, United and Unity hospitals joined picket lines at 7 a.m. Sunday, many just coming off shifts at their respective hospitals. The pickets will last until Sunday, June 26, according to strike organizers.

The strike comes after Allina Health nurses, represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association — a union that comprises more than 20,000 registered nurses and healthcare professionals in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — voted to reject the most recent health insurance contract offer by Allina Health.

The plan, offered on May 31, proposed to shift nurses’ previous health plans to Allina’s corporate health plans. Negotiations on the new contract, which will affect about 5,000 nurses, began in February. 

“Nurses are on strike because they are protesting that Allina Health has not bargained fairly in negotiations,” said Rick Fuentes, a communications specialist for MNA. “Nurses have repeatedly asked for information from Allina in order to counter Allina’s proposals, which Allina has not provided.” 

Fuentes said Allina’s corporate health plans have much higher out-of-pocket maximums and deductibles than the previous plans. 

Nurses at all five of the Allina Health hospitals voted to reject the contract offer and to authorize a committee to call a strike if Allina didn’t return to the negotiating table. 

“Nurses know what’s at stake,” said Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbot Northwestern hospital, in a statement. “We have to be advocates for our practice, our patients, and for ourselves and our family.”

Barbara Brady, a communications specialist for MNA, said the nurses will picket outside each Allina Health hospital from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., until the strike is over on June 26.   

“Nurses, as anyone, should have good health insurance,” said Barb Forshier, a nurse at United for 37 years. “We don’t think anyone should have high deductible plans that price them out or send them into bankruptcy.” 

“We’re the laborers,” said Bonnie Iverson, a nurse at United for 28 years. “We work hard, and I know everybody in the hospital works hard, but this is truly a cut in our benefits. … We’re worth spending some profit on, and we’re going to fight it.” 

The nurses have gained the support of other Minnesota workers’ advocacy groups, including the Service Employees International Union and Education Minnesota. 

“We definitely support the nurses,” said Denise Specht, President of Education Minnesota. “They’re standing up for things that we can definitely relate to. … We believe in their attempts to have safe staffing and good patient ratios. … We believe in their stand. … So many of the issues that they’re standing up for make sense to us.”  

During a press briefing Sunday afternoon, Allina Health’s president and CEO Penny Wheeler said Allina is “eager” to get back to the bargaining table with the union but said the union health plans are costly and unsustainable.  

“I’m … frustrated that it has come to this,” Wheeler said. “We believe we can solve these issues through a constructive dialog.” 

Wheeler said the union’s claims that Allina is unwilling to discuss these issues are “not true.” 

Temporary replacement nurses were brought in from other states in preparation for the strike, and hospital activities are expected to continue as usual, Wheeler said. 

Allina nurses also raised concerns about the company’s unwillingness to respond to workplace violence and staffing issues for patients, Fuentes said. 

“Nurses are prepared to send a week-long 

message to Allina,” Becchetti said. “This contract is about more than just health insurance. It’s about the staffing our patients receive. It’s about the safety of our fellow nurses from assault. It’s about the care our families depend on.”

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), unions are required to provide health care facilities 10 days’ notice prior to striking. MNA delivered a 10-day Notice of Intent to Strike to Allina Health executives on June 8. 

The nurses’ employment is protected under NLRA, which allows union members to engage in unfair labor practice strikes without fear of retaliation.