15 Minnesota hospitals reach tentative deal to avoid 15,000-nurse strike

Minnesota hospital leaders and a union representing 15,000 nurses have reached a tentative contract agreement ahead of what would have been the workers’ second labor strike over pay and staffing.

Announced Tuesday by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and representatives of the hospitals, the deal comes after nine months of negotiations and five to six months of work without an active contract.

The proposed three-year contract includes “historic” 17% to 18% pay increases over the course of the contract and “unprecedented new language to address chronic understaffing in our hospitals,” the union said.

“This tentative agreement is a historic win for nurses and patients at the bedside,” Mary C. Turner, a North Memorial Hospital registered nurse and president of the MNA, said in the union’s announcement. “For years, hospital executives have been pushing nurses out of the profession by under-staffing our units and under-valuing our nurses. This tentative agreement will help to keep nurses at the bedside, where we will keep fighting to oppose the corporate healthcare policies which threaten our hospital systems and the care our patients deserve.”

The strike would have begun Sunday morning across 15 Twin Cities and Twin Ports hospitals, including those run by Allina Health, Essentia Health, HealthPartners, M Health Fairview and Children’s Minnesota. Most locations were slated to end the demonstration Dec. 31, while others were planned as open-ended demonstrations.

MNA did not set a timeline for when its members would be voting on the tentative agreement but said its negotiation leaders will advocate for the deal.

“Allina Health is pleased with the settlement, which reflects the priorities of both parties and recognizes our commitment to our employees, patients and communities,” the system, which would have had four hospitals affected by the strike, said in an online statement. “We are thankful to be able to return our full attention to caring for the community at this time of increased illness and demand.”

MNA nurses had already launched a three-day strike back in September, which is believed to be the largest private-sector nurses’ strike in U.S. history. Their demonstrations often highlighted the multimillion-dollar salaries of CEOs and other executives running the area’s hospitals.

MNA said the agreed-upon wage increases are the largest it's won in more than two decades and include pay retroactive to the previous contract’s expiration. Also included in the deal were pay increases for preceptors and charge nurses and other workplace safety precautions.

“For nine long months in these negotiations, nurses have insisted that workers and patients deserve better in our hospitals,” Chris Rubesch, a registered nurse at Essentia in Duluth and first vice president of MNA, said in the announcement. “This tentative agreement is a critical step to address the chronic short-staffing and other corporate healthcare policies hurting patients and nurses at the bedside. With new staffing language and fair wage increases, nurses are empowered to continue the fight to protect care in our communities.”

The cease-fire between Minnesota hospitals and nurses comes just a few weeks after Kaiser Permanente struck an accord with more than 21,000 of its nurses and nurse practitioners. That deal, which was ratified this week, came with a 22.5% four-year raise and avoided a strike that would have taken MNA’s crown for the largest private-sector nurses’ strike.