Nurses at five Allina hospitals in and around the Twin Cities who are members of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) have been in a contract battle with Allina since the beginning of 2016. Their contract expired on June 1, prompting nurses to go on a seven-day strike at the end of June. Still unable to reach an agreement with the employer, the MNA started a second strike – this time an open-ended strike – which started on Labor Day (September 5).
The nurses came to the table asking for improvements in staffing and workplace safety. On the other side, Allina’s focus is on taking away the nurses’ MNA-specific health insurance plans a goal of management for years. This would force nurses into lower quality and more expensive corporate insurance plans. Historically, the MNA plans were the health care that all Allina employees had, however the nurses were the only union with contract language in place which prohibited diminishments to the insurance plans during the course of the contract, thus leaving these plans in place only for nurses. Meanwhile, over the past decades, Allina whittled away the health insurance benefits that other employees get.
Initially, Allina claimed that the MNA plans needed to go due to the upcoming Cadillac Tax, however, congress pushed off the start date to 2020, and signals from Washington suggest it may never be enacted. Allina then changed their line to claim it would save $10 million by getting the nurses off the MNA plans. Compare this to the over $20 million spent by Allina on the June seven-day strike alone.
It is clear that it’s about more than insurance to Allina – it’s about weakening the strength nurses have in their workplace due to their organization. It’s about union busting.
All five hospitals have maintained their own strong picket lines. But the MNA is doing more than just maintain strong picket lines, the nurses are engaging in a corporate campaign, conducting publicity and picketing actions at businesses owned by Allina’s board of directors, and leafleting and door knocking the neighborhoods they live in. These actions have been successful in driving a handful of board members to resign. The nurses also joined 15 Now Minneapolis in a joint action for raising the minimum wage that also made stops at businesses run by members of Allina’s board of directors.
The labor and the broader community realize the significance of an MNA victory for the broader working class. Unions and community members are stepping up and giving large amounts to the MNA strike fund, and continue to bring meals, snacks, etc. to the picket lines.
The struggle ahead will be difficult as Allina has amassed a large war chest to take on the MNA. With solidarity from others, and many nurses having already found temporary jobs, nurses are prepared to stand strong!