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2,000 Twin Ports nurses begin a three-day strike

DULUTH, MN — Nurses across the state of Minnesota began a three-day strike on Monday, amid stagnant contract negotiations.

“We’re really proud of our nurses for standing up, turning out today, and carrying on our message,” said Chris Rubesch, a nurse at Essentia and part of the negotiations team.

Statewide, the strike is the largest private-sector nursing strike in U.S. History.

Nurses in the Twin Ports have been working under an expired contract since the end of June.

SEE: A closer look inside the stalled negotiations between nurses union, local hospitals

The MNA says their main focus hasn’t been about wages, but staffing shortages.

“Imagine yourself in a hospital bed waiting too long for pain medication to the point that you are now in tears,” said Becky Bixby, an RN at St. Luke’s.

Bixby and Rubesch said they were making significant progress Saturday night, but both hospitals walked away from negotiations.

“We said that we want to continue that discussion and they said I think we need to be done for the day and walked away. We haven’t heard from them since,” Rubesch said.

Rubesch alleges Saturday night was the first time their staffing concerns were addressed after months of negotiating.

He hopes this week’s strike changes that.

“We hope that this will be enough to get movement on our top priority, which is staffing and bedside care,” he said.

Nurses plan to head back to work as soon as the strike is over.

“We’ll be returning to work as scheduled on Thursday at 7 a.m.,” Rubesch said.

Both hospitals issued statements Monday.

St. Luke’s issued the following statement:

This morning at 7 a.m. we had a very smooth transition of care from St. Luke’s nurses to replacement RNs. We are fully staffed and extremely pleased with the quality of the replacement RNs. We are not on divert for medical patients and have accepted every patient from the region who needs our care. We are accepting patients in our emergency department and throughout our hospital, with the exception of our inpatient mental health unit. St. Luke’s entire team is doing an incredible job of caring for patients.

Mary Turner claimed St. Luke’s was holding ICU nurses hostage and forced them to work nearly 19 hours. That is absurd. A few ICU nurses were asked to remain on the floor for 20 minutes beyond the end of their shift. During that time, their replacements were in the hospital and receiving reports to assume care.

We are appropriately focused on caring for our patients during the MNA work stoppage and have not scheduled our next negotiating session. We look forward to returning to the table to reach a fair and equitable agreement. We must balance fair compensation, continued investment in services, and maintaining the highest standard of patient care, all while striving to keep health care affordable for our community.

MNA is asking for wage increases of 24.5% over three years (10%, 8.5%, 6%) among many other economic demands, which are simply unaffordable.

St. Luke’s is offering a 10.5% wage increase over three years, which is generous by any measure.

We did everything we could to avoid a strike. We negotiated in good faith through 17 sessions, including 44 hours just this past week. On Saturday night at 10 pm, we were at an impasse and had to focus our resources on preparing to care for our region during the work stoppage. We did not abandon the negotiating process. We have been asking for federal mediation for months. MNA could have averted this strike and chose not to.

As is standard during any strike, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is on-site at St. Luke’s, along with all other hospitals experiencing a work stoppage, to ensure the quality of care. We are confident they will be pleased with their findings.

Essentia’s Chief Nursing Officer Rhonda Kazik issued the following recorded statement:

The transition was largely seamless across the board in every location across our facilities as these nurses assumed care and responsibilities. We’ve seen no disruption to patient care, [and we’re] grateful to patients and families, and clinicians, nurses, and colleagues who truly have come together to focus on patient care, and patient care first. The professionalism and competency that have walked in the building have been amazing and quite impressive.

We have always known Essentia Health for its high standards. We are already seeing that, and we set this whole plan up with the plan to never compromise our standards of care.

We look forward to resuming negotiations and working towards an agreement with the MNA that will allow both sides to return our focus where it should be: on our patients and communities first and foremost. At Essentia, we already have some of the finest nurses in the entire country. We’re so thankful for the many contributions they make and for advancing our mission of making a healthy difference in people’s lives. And when the time comes, we will welcome them back with open arms.

I understand this is an uncomfortable time for the hospitals, nurses, and the patients we’re so passionate about serving.

Please know that care does remain available and accessible at each of our facilities including uninterrupted emergency and urgent care. This will not change at all during this week’s strike. our hospitals are open, ready to provide the kind of high-quality compassion and care our patients expect and deserve.”

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