On June 19, 4,800 registered nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) at five Allina hospitals in the Twin Cities began a seven-day strike. Nurses are fighting to defend their insurance benefits, improve staffing, and have a seat at the table on hospital workplace violence committees. The other five hospital systems in the Twin Cities already settled a three-year contract with the MNA with no changes to benefits and a 2% wage increase each of the next three years (6% total). However, Allina decided it wanted to test the MNA and the nurses to see if they can push the nurses out of their “cadillac health plan” and their contract language which states that the hospital has to negotiate any diminishments to the plans with the union.
This attack on health insurance is almost certainly an opening volley in a wider offensive by the company against the union’s strength in the workplace and will in future negotiations include attacks on the pension as well, if Allina is allowed to succeed. Other area hospitals will be watching to see if Allina can break the MNA nurses, and, if they smell blood, they’ll be on the attack in three years.
Health insurance is connected to work-life issues. Nurses have a right to take breaks each and every shift and work in a safe place without fear of assault, or fear of not being able to care for their patients properly due to chronic short staffing. While facing risks like communicable diseases and assault in the workplace, it is very important for nurses to have quality health insurance. Everyone should have access to quality health insurance and no one should be bankrupted over an illness or injury.
The seven day strike was successfully used to highlight the importance of safe staffing for better patient care, playing a large part in winning public support to the side of nurses. Over the past period, MNA has effectively drawn the link between nurses’ working conditions and patient health. They have opposed budget and staff cuts which boost corporate profits at the expense of patient care. Along with National Nurses United, MNA stands for Medicare for all, a policy championed by Bernie Sanders and supported by millions of people. It shows how a strong labor movement can represent the interests of working people generally.
The MNA is also actively supporting the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, starting with the ballot initiative in Minneapolis. Winning $15 an hour would give a raise to over 100,000 workers in Minneapolis, including thousands of health care workers and staff. It deepens the solidarity between nurses in Minneapolis and the community they treat, presenting a united front against the same corporate power which has devastated unions and working people generally.
On the picket lines, nurses were both excited by the feeling that we can fight back but also mad as hell at Allina. There was an understanding that this will probably not be the last strike before this contract is settled, and that the fight needs to continue.