The settlement of the recent strike by Allina Health nurses may set a new precedent for healthcare labor relations that shifts the balance of power to management.
During negotiations, Allina management drew a line in the sand, saying it would only agree to a deal if striking nurses made concessions on their health benefits. After a 37-day strike, Allina nurses agreed to give up their union health benefits in favor of Allina’s corporate health plan, a conclusion experts say could have nationwide implications, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
The company has the leeway to hold out due to its hiring of 1,500 replacement nurses to fill shifts, which kept the strike from disrupting operations.
Allina bosses’ refusal to back down on benefits “probably emboldens other healthcare organizations around the country to consider the same approach," Roger King, a labor attorney at the District of Columbia’s HR Policy Association, told MPR.
That’s not to say healthcare leaders won’t do everything in their power to keep labor disputes from escalating to that point; hiring replacement workers is costly and increases the risk to patient safety as well. However, the longer a strike drags on, the more likely it becomes that hiring replacements is the more cost-effective option.
King said the Minnesota Nurses Association and its national parent union, National Nurses United, made a fatal mistake in backing an open-ended strike that was financially easier for the hospital to ride out than it was for the employees. In the wake of the defeat, NNU is reassessing its strategy, according to the union’s collective bargaining director Fernando Losada. However, he said, management should realize that workers are prepared to strike long-term.