Some 15,000 nurses in Minnesota will begin a three-day strike Monday in what is believed to be the largest private-sector nurses’ strike in U.S. history, according to a release from the union representing them, the Minnesota Nurses Association.
The nurses work at 16 hospitals across the state owned by seven different health systems: M Health Fairview, Essentia Health, HealthPartners, Allina Health, Children’s Hospital, North Memorial and St. Luke’s.
They’ve been in negotiations for new contracts since March, and like many other nurses across the country want measures to help remedy staffing shortages and retention concerns worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread burnout.
With thousands of nurses out picketing until Thursday, the health systems have created contingency plans and hired replacement staff to keep operations afloat.
Twins Cities Hospitals Group, which includes Methodist, North Memorial, Children's and Fairview hospitals, stands to incur more than $20 million a day in extra costs for the duration of the three-day strike, according to an email statement.
Depending on specialty, travel replacement nurses during the strike stand to make $7,980 to $10,640 for a 60-hour work week with travel and housing costs provided, according to a post from travel staffing firm Medical Staffing Solutions.
Travel nurses acting as replacement staff amid strikes are “typically paid among the industry’s highest rates due to the assignment’s intensity and the elevated skill level required to staff a strike,” Jason Kohl, senior vice president of another staffing firm, U.S. Nursing, said in an email.
Ultimately, about half of all the labor disputes that U.S. Nursing helps staff end up being resolved before any care is disrupted, Kohl said.
While staffing concerns are a key point in negotiations in Minnesota, higher wages are also important asks from nurses in new contracts.
In negotiations, nurses have asked for raises of more than 30% over the course of three years, according to a statement from the Twin Cities Hospitals Group.
The hospitals have pushed back, saying nurses who work full-time at Methodist, North Memorial, Children's and Fairview hospitals regularly earn $100,000 or more a year, according to the statement.
The hospitals have proposed increases of more than 10% over the course of a three-year contract, and said in the statement “these are the largest increases in more than a decade.”
Through negotiations, nurses have also highlighted the nonprofit status of their hospitals, launching an advertising campaign in a bid to “put patient care before profits,” according to the MNA.
Only two hospitals in Minnesota are for-profit, while the rest are nonprofit or community-owned, according to the state’s hospital association.
The union is arguing that the nonprofit hospitals operate like for-profits hospitals with “patients overcharged by hospital executives trying to boost their bottom lines.”
“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, a registered nurse at Essentia in Duluth and MNA vice president, said in a union statement.
“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,” Rubesch said.